Late April Stunning Early Morning Sky

Screenshot 2016-04-24 22.24.00
Early morning view to the south 3 hours after midnight, tomorrow with the waning gibbous moon, Saturn and Mars in Ophiuchus, north of the red supergiant star Antares, the heart of Scorpius, the scorpion. Note the proximity of the moon, Mars and Saturn to the ecliptic. Click the image for full-res view.

WaningSlimGibbous07312010_UsM_0.25m_s
The waning gibbous moon as imaged by the author on 31 July, 2010 using a 25 cm (10″) telescope from Montauk, NY.

With the waning gibbous moon, Mars and Saturn in Ophiuchus, just north of the red supergiant star Antares, all within 7 degrees of each other, the view to the south in the deep night, tonight, very early morning, tomorrow through Wednesday, April 27th promises to be absolutely stunning.

For best effect, a pair 9×70 binoculars will afford the best view within the immediate vicinity of the moon. Sweeping around in this region using a wide field configuration with even a modest telescope will provide spectacular views, made even better if the telescope is a hand-held “richest-field” telescope. As the moon is approaching its third quarter phase and the sunlight is thus striking the lunar surface at almost a 90º angle relative to us as observers, the waning gibbous phase puts the craters, mountains, valleys and lunar cliffs in stark relief.

Using the moon as a starting point and moving to objects of increasing distance, we observe ruddy red Mars almost due south of the moon and centered almost exactly on the ecliptic. Following Mars is the Solar System’s veritable lord of the rings, Saturn. Using a low-power, wide-field telescope affords one the opportunity to observe all these objects while, at the same time, study them in more detail if so desired since a telescope provides the observer with greater resolving power and light gathering capability than binoculars.

Messier_4_Hubble_WikiSky
The globular star cluster, Messier-4 (NGC 6121), in Scorpius, imaged with the Hubble Space Telescope. This cluster is over 7,200 ly distant and, like all globular clusters, contains some of the oldest, most evolved stars in the universe. Click the image for full-res version.

Following Saturn, we move to the south and west to find Antares ironically, in this context, meaning the “equal to-Ares“, the Greek god of war or Mars, the Roman god of war. It is believed that the star was named as such as being the rival or equal to Mars in its ruddy red color, a color characteristic of an evolved, red supergiant star. Much further away than the 550-light-year distant Antares and something that stands as a good object lesson in comparative luminosities, is the 7,200-light-year distant globular star cluster *Messier-4 (M-4), conveniently located less than (1/2)º to the west of the giant star. It should be noted that Antares, so bright and friendly in our skies, would be invisible to the unaided eye at the distance of M-4 and would appear as one of the moderately bright stars in this image of the cluster acquired with the mighty Hubble Space Telescope.

Continuing our nocturnal celestial sojourn, we sweep to the east to our galaxy’s heart, the Galactic Center and Sagittarius, north into Ophiuchus, then following the milky way into Aquila, the Eagle and then Cygnus, the Swan.

Please check back frequently. As the the seasons progress and as the sky slowly changes from one night to the next, I will be posting additional articles highlighting the richness and diversity of each season’s sky and its particular high-points.

*Note: the Messier Catalogue is a compendium of 110 non-stellar objects compiled by the famous 18th century French astronomer and comet hunter Charles Messier. It was originally published at the time as an exclusion list for comet hunters.

Imagination is more important than knowledge 585px-Albert_Einstein_signature_1934(invert)
An index of all articles in this blog can be found here.

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