The Lyrid Meteor Shower 2014

Meteor_BolideThe first respectable meteor shower of the calendar year peaks on April 21-24.  The Lyrid meteor shower, which it turns out has a radiant in the constellation Hercules, is not usually as spectacular as the more famous Perseids or Geminids which peak in August and December, respectively.  But if you’re out late or up early during these days, look up for a few minutes and you might see a Lyrid streak by.   Sometimes, the shower surprises to the upside.

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A Guide to Observing the Planet Mars

Mars_OppositionsMars reached opposition on April 8 and makes its closest approach to Earth this week in more than 6 years.  While Jupiter and Saturn are fairly easy to see in a telescope and put on a good show roughly once a year, Mars is a much more challenging object.  It only reaches opposition once every 780 days on average and when it does, the planet is small in a telescope and gives up scant  detail.  But with a little resolve, steady sky, and a few hard-won tricks of the trade, you can some tantalizing surface detail on the surface of Mars.  To help you see Mars for yourself, One-Minute Astronomer has published a guide on how to understand and observe the planet Mars during its opposition in 2014.  In this free 26-page guide to the planet Mars, you will discover…

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Alpha Centauri

Alpha_CentauriThe brightest double-star in the southern hemisphere, the 3rd-brightest star to the unaided eye, and the closest star system to Earth. These descriptions all apply to the star α (alpha) Centauri, the brightest star in the southern constellation Centaurus.  Alpha Centauri is often called Rigil Kentaurus, which is derived from the Arabic words for “foot of the Centaur”.  The star is a pleasing double for telescopic observers.  And paired with the bright blue-white star Hadar to the west, it helps point the way to the south celestial pole.

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The Sky This Month – April 2014

MarsIt’s another good month for stargazing, especially for northerners finally emerging from the clouds and deep snow of a long winter.  Mars reaches opposition this month, rising in the east as the Sun sets in the west, and putting on its best show since 2007.  Jupiter remains big, bright, and accessible in Gemini, its belts and zones and moons still resplendent in a small telescope.  Saturn rises a little before midnight and slowly brightens throughout the month.  The Moon takes a part in two spectacles.  On the evening of April 3, it saunters through the stars of the Hyades.  And on the 15th, it passes into the Earth’s shadow and goes into total eclipse for observers in most of North and Central America.  Here’s what’s going on in the night sky this month…

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A Double Star in the Lion’s Mane

algieba If you have a small telescope handy, wander out and examine the star Algieba, the brightest star in the curved section of the “Sickle of Leo”.  Also called γ Leonis,  Algieba is a superb double star.  Both components are evolved, swollen giants about twice the mass of our Sun which have run out of hydrogen and now burn helium in their cores.

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