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Tonight

Use Big Dipper to find Polaris and Little Dipper

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So you say you can find the Big Dipper, but not the Little Dipper? This post is for you. At present the Big Dipper is high in the north during the evening hours. Notice the two outer stars in the bowl of the Big Dipper. These two stars – called Duhbe and Merak – always point to Polaris, the North Star. Find Polaris, and you can find the Little Dipper.

Everything you need to know: Lyrid meteor shower

A fireball meteor falling earthward, courtesy of NASA/George Varros

The annual Lyrid meteor shower is active each year from about April 16 to 25, and so you might see some Lyrid meteors beginning this weekend. The peak of this shower – which tends to come in a burst and usually lasts for less than a day – will fall on Earth Day, April 22, 2014. The greatest number of meteors will fall during the few hours before dawn. A last quarter moon, rising in the middle of the night, intrudes on the Lyrid shower in 2014, but these meteors tend to be bright. Some may overcome the moonlight. Follow the links inside to learn more about the Lyrid meteor shower: April’s shooting stars!

Moon and Scorpion rise after Orion sets night of April 18-19

Beginning late at night on April 18-19, the bright star i the moon's vicinity is Antares in the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion.  Antares is considered the Heart of the Scorpion.

Beginning late at night on April 18-19, the bright star i the moon’s vicinity is Antares in the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion. Antares is considered the Heart of the Scorpion.

On the night of April 18-19, 2014, the waning gibbous moon and the red supergiant star Antares of the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion rise in the southeast late at night. They appear over the horizon only after the constellation Orion has set. According to ancient myths, Orion and the Scorpion are archenemies and never appear in the same sky together.

Moon, red supergiant star Antares rise late on April 17-18

2014-april-17-saturn-antares-moon-night-sky-chart

The waning gibbous moon and the red supergiant star Antares won’t rise till around midnight, or later, on April 17-18 (at mid-northern latitudes). Once they’re up, however, they’ll be out for rest of the night. At mid-northern latitudes, the moon and Antares will rise in the east a few hours after the planet Saturn does.

Start looking for Lyrid meteors!

Lyrids and others via NASA/MSFC/D. Moser

Lyrids and others via NASA/MSFC/D. Moser

The Lyrid meteor shower’s peak morning is April 22, but you might see meteors before that date since we’re crossing the Lyrid meteor stream from about April 16 to 25.

Moon, Saturn from mid-evening until dawn on April 16-17

2014-april-16-saturn-moon-night-sky-chart

On the night of April 16, people around the world will have to wait until mid-to-late evening to see the waning gibbous moon pairing up with the ringed planet Saturn. Once the moon and Saturn climb above the eastern horizon tonight, the twosome will adorn the nighttime until dawn. Look for the moon and Saturn in the east before going to bed tonight, and if you’re an early riser, look for them in the western sky before sunrise.

Rising time of the moon and Saturn in your sky

The moon and Saturn will pair up especially closely as seen from the Americas. In fact, the glare of the waning gibbous moon may obscure Saturn from view, so you might need binoculars to spot Saturn tonight. From South America, the moon will actually occult – cover over – Saturn, temporarily blocking the ringed planet from view.

Sundial noon and clock noon agree in middle April

Every year around the middle of April, time by the sun and time by the clock agree. For instance, when the midday sun climbs highest in the sky in mid-April, the sundial reads 12 o’clock noon and your local clock time says 12 o’clock noon.

Your local clock time is the same as standard clock time, as long as you live on the meridian that governs your time zone. If you live east of the time zone line, then your local time runs ahead of standard time. If you live west of the time zone line, local time lags behind standard time.

Total lunar eclipse for the Americas on night of April 14-15

Total lunar eclipse in 2004 by Fred Espenak

Total lunar eclipse in 2004 by Fred Espenak

The April 2014 full moon will pass directly through Earth’s dark (umbral) shadow, to stage a total eclipse of the moon for nearly 1 and 1/3 hours, during the nighttime hours on April 14 or 15 (depending upon time zone). A partial umbral eclipse precedes totality by over an hour, and follows totality by over an hour, so the moon takes a little more than 3 and ½ hours to completely sweep through the Earth’s dark shadow. On eclipse night, the brilliant “star” near the April full moon is no star at all but the red planet Mars. They’ll be within each others vicinity all night long.

Watch for Mars near moon on April 13-14

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On the night of April 13, Mars is visible near the moon soon as soon as darkness falls, and, one night later, during the night of April 14-15, Mars will be closest to Earth for this two-year period and it will be near the moon again as the moon undergoes a total lunar eclipse, visible from the Americas. So … wow!

Brightest Mars in six years on eclipse night

Anthony Wesley in Australia captured this marvelous image of Mars on March 6, 2014.

Anthony Wesley in Australia captured this marvelous image of Mars on March 6, 2014.

Earth passed between Mars and the sun on April 8. Our two worlds are closest on April 14. On that night, Mars is near the moon at the time of a total eclipse!