As the Sun sets in the west, Hercules the strong man and Bootes the herdsman are well up in the east. Can’t find the Big Dipper? It’s overhead at this time of year, so look up, up, farther up. Also known as the Great Bear, the Dipper is almost straight overhead. High in the southern sky is Virgo the Virgin as is Leo the Lion, though a bit further west. Those are the major constellation for the season.
If you’re a newbie to the hobby, they are the first you’ll want to learn. A good Planisphere is an excellent tool for doing so. Also a current issue of SkyNews will do the same. You’ll find the latter at Chapters in Peterborough.
Moon-a-tics will welcome April with a growing crescent Moon. By April 3 our nightlight will have bloomed to its first quarter phase. Because the Sun is striking it at an angle, the craters and mountains are emphasized by their long shadows.
By April 11 we are lit by the Full Moon. While you might think that this is a good phase for observing our celestial dance partner, you’d be wrong. At Full Moon phase it is lit straight on. So there are no shadows and all the detail on the Moon’s surface goes flat.
From the 11th on the Moon rises later each night and on April 19 it will be at Last Quarter phase. Again, the Sun is lighting it from an angle and the shadows cast make the lunar detail ‘pop’. Alls of this is most evident when viewing through a small telescope. However binoculars will do. If you can get your hands on a lunar map, even naked eye observing works.
Deep sky observers (those folks with bigger telescopes) will welcome the return of some favourite targets. Hercules brings with him the magnificent globular star clusters known as M13 and M92. Both are a virtual explosion of stars in a scope’s eyepiece. M13 is estimated to have over one million stars within its gravitational grasp and M92 isn’t far behind.
Are you goofy for galaxies? Step right up. There are five in Leo the lion and galaxies by the cluster in Virgo. A half dozen call the Big Dipper home and there are plenty more for the expert observer to view.
If all of the above is unfamiliar to you, here are some suggestions. For books Terrence Dickinson’s ‘NightWatch’ and H.A. Rey’s ‘The Stars a new way to see them’ are tops in my books. They’ll give you excellent star charts to work from. You’ll find them on line at Amazon or in Peterborough at Chapters.
Also of great use is the Planisphere or Star Wheel. It’ll show you the constellations for each of the four seasons along with when and where to look. To buy one you’ll need to access an astronomy store and do a bit of phoning around. Happily all of the stores have toll-free lines. So go online and look up one. Toronto has two, there’s another in Bolton and Ottawa has yet another. A little research up front will make things easier down the road.
Stargazer by John Crossen
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