• Jules-Pierre Malartre

The Naked Eye

Welcome to our new stargazing column where every month we’ll take you on an adventure through the night sky during which you’ll discover amazing sights without an expensive telescope. The first astronomers did not have sophisticated equipment yet they were able to make very important astronomical discoveries and observations; today’s backyard stargazers can also appreciate the beauty of the night sky with nothing but the naked eye. The locations of the four cardinal points (North, South, East and West) are the only things you will need to know.

International Astronomy Day

April 29 is International Astronomy Day, and if you feel like celebrating with other stargazers, the Montreal chapter of the Royal Canadian Astronomy Society (RASC) will be hosting a special event at the Morgan Arboretum in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue starting at 7:30 p.m. This is free and open to the public. There will be a presentation and an observing session (weather permitting). RASC members are eager to help you discover the wonders of the night sky and answer your questions.

Spotting Venus in the early morning sky

Venus in the early morning sky on April 28 (image generated on SkySafari 5 for the iPad – see www.skysafariastronomy.com).

Early risers should be careful not to mistake bright Venus for a UFO in the early morning sky in May. Before sunrise, looking East (where the sun rises), you will see a very bright point of light that is not a star at all, but the planet Venus, our closest neighbor (after the moon). Venus is brightest in the morning sky until May 14, and it reaches its greatest brilliance April 30.

A chance meeting of Mars and the Pleiades

A nice evening line up: A very thin crescent Moon, Mars and the Pleiades star cluster in the early night sky on April 28 (image generated on SkySafari 5 for the iPad – see www.skysafariastronomy.com).

Around April 28, the Pleiades star cluster and a thin crescent moon can help you spot the red planet Mars. A star cluster is a tightly packed group of ‘sister’ stars. The Pleiades may look like a fuzzy patch in the sky at first, but once your eyes get used to the darkness, the Pleiades will look like a miniature version of the Little Dipper (some people actually mistake the Pleiades for the Little Dipper). Looking west above the horizon around 8 p.m., the bright point to the upper left of the Pleiades is actually Mars. The waxing moon, Mars and the Pleiades will be neatly lined up in the sky.

Another chance meeting: Jupiter and the Moon

The Moon keeping Jupiter company in the early night sky of May 7 (image generated on SkySafari 5 for the iPad – see www.skysafariastronomy.com).

The Moon will make it easier to spot bright Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, on May 7. Looking above the horizon around 8 p.m., Jupiter will appear as a bright star to the right of the Moon.

A meteor shower in the Constellation Aquarius

Meteor showers come from debris fields left behind by comets in the path of the Earth. When the Earth passes through the debris, the particles burn up in our upper atmosphere, creating beautiful streaks of light. Meteor showers are named after the constellations from which they seem to radiate. The meteors radiate from the constellation Aquarius, but they can appear anywhere in the sky. The Eta Aquarid meteor shower occurs annually from April 19 to May 28, and it is the result of debris left behind by comet Halley. The best time to see shooting stars will be around May 5 or 6 in the South-Eastern sky, just before dawn. The waxing Moon’s brightness will block out many of the fainter meteors, but if you are patient, you should witness some of the brightest ones streaking across the sky.

Be patient, and you might see shooting stars in the lower South-Eastern sky in the early morning of May 6 (image generated on SkySafari 5 for the iPad – see www.skysafariastronomy.com).

Those are some of the naked eye sights for the coming month. There is much more to see, and we encourage you to go out there often and discover the other wonders of the night sky. You can download a handy pocket planetarium from espacepourlavie.ca/en/pocket-planetarium that will help you find your way around the night sky.

Until next month, keep looking up at the stars.

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