April is a great time to get outdoors and discover the universe. That fact is widely recognized by stargazers who hold some of their most important public events at this time of year.
Locally, this Friday — and Saturday as a backup — is the time for a public Skywatch held by the South Jersey Astronomy Club.
Nationally, Saturday is Astronomy Day — a holiday that Rowan University in Glassboro will celebrate with a public telescope workshop and a Solar Saturday, during which the public can observe the sun safely with filtered telescopes. Worldwide, April has been declared Global Astro-nomy Month by an international organization called Astronomers Without Borders.
Nights of moon-star meeting, Saturn and the space station. Before I discuss how you can attend the public events, I want to tell about some of the marvelous astronomy sights that will appear in our sky these next two weeks.
Whether you share these heavenly visions with a crowd or a friend, or even by yourself, there will be much to see.
The moon will be our guide to some of the sights in the next few weeks. If last night was clear, I hope many of you got a spectacular view of the crescent moon near the bright planet Jupiter.
Tonight, a thicker lunar crescent is much higher above Jupiter, which shines as a brilliant point of light in the west for several hours after sunset.
This Saturday evening, a very thick moon is well below Regulus, the star that marks the heart of Leo the Lion.
But the following week is the one for the most exciting moon pairings with other celestial objects.
On Thursday, April 25, the moon is full. As it rises in the east at nightfall, you will see a bright point of light not very far to its upper left. The light is Saturn, and, of course, if you have a telescope you can see its majestic globe and rings.
Even better, however, is the night before. Around 8:30 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, April 24, look ever so closely above the moon and you will see the fantastic sight of a bright star glittering there. Binoculars give an easier, brighter view.
The star is Spica, brightest in the zodiac constellation Virgo. Saturn is well to the lower left, but if you are watching around 8:53 to 8:59 p.m., you will behold something very special brighten low in the southwest and cross high in the sky before it vanishes not far short of the moon and Spica in the southeast.
I’m talking about the International Space Station, which around 8:56 p.m. passes near the bright star Capella for viewers in southern New Jersey and then glides slowly onward, outshining all other points of light before disappearing quickly just as it is nearing the moon and Spica.
Just one piece of advice: These times could change a bit, due to changes in the space station’s orbit between now and April 24. You might want to go out a little early that night. Or, you can get an update on the big day by going to www.heavens-above.com, selecting the location you’re at, and clicking on the link to space station passes.
Skywatch, astronomy day and global astronomy month.
The Skywatch will be held at the Egg Harbor Branch of the Atlantic County Library at 1 Swift Ave. in Egg Harbor Township starting at 7:30 p.m. Friday — or Saturday, if Friday’s night sky is not clear enough. For confirmation, check at www.sjac.us that day. SJAC members will have telescopes to show you the moon, Jupiter, Saturn and other sights at the Skywatch.
For information on the free astronomy events Saturday at Rowan University, check out www.rowan.edu/planetarium.
To learn more about Astronomy Day, go to www.astroleague.org. To find out about many special activities you can do — outdoors and online — in Global Astronomy Month, go to www.-awb.org. The motto of Astronomers Without Borders is “one people, one sky.” Celebrate the night!