Click here for Dave Leake's preview of sky events for 2015!
For: March 30-April 5
A big weekend is in store! Friday night, the planetarium welcomes lecturer Rob Kanter into the dome at 7 p.m. for our last “World of Science” talk of the academic year. His topic is biodiversity in the area. Then set an alarm for early Saturday morning as, if clouds permit, we’ll be treated to a Total Lunar Eclipse. The Moon enters the darkest part of the Earth’s shadow at 5:15 a.m. The Moon will be fully immersed in the shadow at 6:54 a.m. but then starts to re-emerge from it at 7:06, so totality is very short! The Sun will rise before the eclipse ends. Given the Full Moon is opposite the Sun, look for the Moon nearly due west.
For: April 6-12
Tuesday is the deadline for girl scouts interested in our “Sky” merit badge workshops at the planetarium next week. See our web site for details. “Microorganisms in Space” will be the topic of a talk at the monthly CU Astro Society meeting at the planetarium. The public is invited Thursday at 7pm. Use binoculars Saturday evening to spy the brilliant planet Venus in the west just to the left of the Pleiades Star Cluster. Venus is 105 million miles from us this week and the bluish stars in the Pleiades are 25 million times farther! Compare that to the star Aldebaran, to the upper left of Venus, which is “only” 4 million times farther than the planet! But they look so close!
For: April 13-19
Saturday brings us a New Moon, meaning the Moon is in the same part of the sky inhabited by the Sun. So the Moon is there, but we face the side that isn’t illuminated by the Sun. You can stay up all night and not see it! Without the Moon to brighten the evening, it is a great night to take in the sky. The CU Astronomical Society will do just that (weather permitting) at the Middle Fork Forest Preserve Saturday night. A program at the activity center will begin at 8pm (weather permitting) with dark sky observing to follow. The public is invited to this free event. We’ll have the Moon in the evening sky next week.
For: April 20-26
If you have a low western horizon, look at sunset for a thin crescent Moon. To the right of the Moon will be Mars and, a bit lower, Mercury. You might try using binoculars but don’t accidentally point them at the Sun! Tomorrow night, the Moon is higher and to the lower left of Venus. What a gorgeous sight! If you’re out late Wednesday night and into Thursday morning, look for Lyrid meteors in the sky. This shower reaches its maximum this week but you may still only see 15-20 “shooting stars” an hour. We have a first quarter Moon Saturday night meaning another observatory open house at the CU Astro Society’s site (cuas.org). Both Saturday and Sunday, the Moon is below Jupiter.
For: April 27 – May 3
Get set for the best evening view of the elusive planet Mercury for all of 2015. With Mercury being the planet closest to the Sun, from our point of view, the farthest Mercury will be separated from the Sun is only 21 degrees (two fists held at arm’s length). So good views are rare. Mercury rose from the Sun’s glare last week. This week, look for it in the west far below and to the right of Venus. Look for it now and then follow it each evening. Mercury will get higher in the sky until the end of next week, when it will quickly plunge back towards the Sun. Tonight Mercury sets at about 9:30pm.
See Dave Leake's "Prairie Skies" column in the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette each Monday morning.