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Wayne Post
  • Looking Up: Spring stars and galaxies to see

  • With the moon past full, evenings in the coming two weeks well be an excellent time to enjoy the stars in their fullness - to the degree, of course, that light pollution does not interfere.

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  • With the moon past full, evenings in the coming two weeks well be an excellent time to enjoy the stars in their fullness - to the degree, of course, that light pollution does not interfere.
    The bright stars associated with Northern Hemisphere winter evenings, including the many in the constellation Orion, now dominate the southwestern sky on mid-April evenings. The brilliant planet Venus is high up in the west, adding to this scene, with Jupiter far below. Did anyone notice Venus very close to the Pleiades Star Cluster on April 2?
    At around 7 or 8 p.m., starting from left, facing south-southwest, see the very bright bluish star Sirius, the fascinating belt of Orion, the bright Orion starts Rigel and Betelgeuse (the latter being reddish), and then the bright orange star Aldebaran. This star appears to be linked to the large V-shaped star cluster, the Hyades; to the right of this is Venus, and then the marvelous, compact star cluster, the Pleiades.  Sirius look for bright yellow star Procyon, and near the zenith (overhead), the two bright stars near one another, Pollux and castor.  Above Aldebaran and the Hyades and close to the zenith, is the brilliant yellow star Capella.
    If you wait till around 11 p.m., most of these stars have set below the horizon, but if you have a low view of the west, you may see fiery red Betelgeuse about to say goodnight. Procyon, Pollux, Castor and Capella are still well visible, but much lower in the sky.
    Spring time evening skies are better known to telescope users, as “galaxy time.” There are hundreds of distant, faint galaxies in good view across the span of the heavens. Within reach of a modest backyard telescope. There are so many to see at this time because of a couple factors. First, this direction in the heavens points out and away from our own Milky Way Galaxy within which we live. The Milky Way Band is poorly seen on spring evenings because we are facing away from it; the band is the cross-section of our basically flat spiral galaxy, and contains a great deal of interstellar dust. It is very hard to see the light of far away galaxies near or within the Milky Way Band because of that dust, so our clearest view of the outer Universe is facing outward, as we do on spring evenings facing south.
    Secondly, there is an immense cluster of galaxies strewn across a large part of the spring night sky, across the constellations Virgo, Leo and other sections, as far as the Big Dipper. Even without a detailed chart, you can just take your telescope and sweep across this area. Be sure your eyes are adapted for the darkness. Within minutes you will likely "bump" into small fuzzy spots, among the stars. These are distant galaxies, at least as immense and grand as our own, teeming with billions of their own stars and surely planets and moons.
    Page 2 of 2 - Is there life on these planets? Maybe. Is that life intelligent? We hope they are smart enough to shut off the night lights they do not need, and look up, and perhaps see among the far away gems of the cosmos, a faint fuzzy spot we call the Milky Way. What would they call it? Whatever it is, they’re wrong, since this is our galaxy so we have the right to name it. This assumes there are no other civilizations elsewhere in our galaxy giving it another name. If there are, this could some day be confusing.
    We call one of the nearer galaxies, M31, the Andromeda Galaxy. Maybe someday we’ll have to change that?
    Last-quarter moon is on April 13. Be sure to notice the bright red-orange planet Mars, in the east-southeast the next clear evening. Also note the wonderful Big Dipper, now leaping up high in the northeast, it’s “bowl” tipping upside down.
    Please contact the writer at news@neagle.com and mention where you read this column.
    Keep looking up!

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