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Tonight

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.

Leo? Here’s your constellation

King of beasts via desktopnexus.com

King of beasts via desktopnexus.com

Of the 13 constellations of the Zodiac, Leo the Lion ranks as one of easiest to identify in the night sky. From a Northern Hemisphere perspective, the Lion is a fair-weather friend, springing into the early evening sky around the March 20 equinox. Late March, April and May are superb months for identifying Leo the Lion, as this constellation becomes visible as soon as darkness falls and stays out until the wee hours of the morning.

How do you star hop?

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Rebecca wrote, “What is ‘star hopping?’ What does that mean?”

Amateur astronomers use star hopping to go from stars and constellations they know … to ones they don’t know yet. First, look for noticeable patterns on the sky’s dome. One very easy pattern to find at this time of year is the constellation Orion the Hunter. You’ll find it descending in the west after sunset. Orion is easy to find because it contains a very noticeable pattern of three medium-bright stars in a short straight row. These stars represent Orion’s Belt.

Leo loses his tail. We gain a constellation

You need a dark sky to appreciate the constellation Coma Berenices.  If you have one ... it's very beautiful.

You need a dark sky to appreciate the constellation Coma Berenices. If you have one … it’s very beautiful.

Tonight’s chart again shows the evening sky high to the south. To the upper left of the constellation Leo the Lion are dozens of very faint stars. They make up the constellation Coma Berenices, otherwise known as Berenice’s Hair. The Greek-Egyptian astronomer Ptolemy and others considered these stars the tuft at the end of the tail of Leo. Coma Berenices remained part of Leo until a few hundred years ago, when it was first listed as a separate constellation. The story goes that an ancient Egyptian queen, Berenice, feared for her husband’s life …

Star-hop from Leo to the Coma star cluster

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Our chart at the top of this post shows the constellation Leo the Lion and the Coma star cluster at roughly 9 p.m. local time (10 p.m. local daylight saving time). You can see Leo from the suburbs, but you’ll need a dark sky to find the cluster. In mid-evening now, as seen from mid-northern latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere, the constellation of the Lion will be high in the southern sky. In ancient times, the Coma star cluster represented the Lion’s tufted tail.

Watch for Venus and the Seven Sisters!

2015-april-11-venus-aldebaran-pleiades-night-sky-chart

Look westward shortly after sunset and you can’t miss the dazzling planet Venus, the third-brightest celestial object to light up the heavens, after the sun and moon. As dusk ebbs into night, watch for the Pleiades star cluster – also known as the Seven Sisters – to pop out near Venus. The nearby bright star is Aldebaran, the brightest star in the constellation Taurus the Bull. Although Aldebaran rates as a 1st-magnitude star, Venus shines some 90 times more brilliantly than this ruddy star that depicts the Bull’s glaring eye.

If you have difficultly seeing the Pleiades with the unaided eye, by all means use binoculars. Or even if you can see this dipper-shaped cluster with the eye alone, try binoculars anyway. The spectacular Pleiades cluster certainly ranks as a most wondrous telescopic delight!

Kochab and Pherkad in Little Dipper

Kochab and Pherkad

Kochab and Pherkad

If you draw an imaginary line between the two outer stars in the bowl of the Big Dipper – and extend that line northward on the sky’s dome – you’ll come to Polaris, the North Star. The Big Dipper appears high in the northeast sky at nightfall on spring evenings. It wheels above Polaris at late evening. Polaris marks the end of the handle of the Little Dipper, which is fainter and looks less like a dipper than the Big Dipper.

Cor Caroli or Heart of Charles

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons. If you're familiar with the constellation Leo the Lion, you can star-hop to Cor Caroli by drawing an imaginary line  from the star Alkaid of the Big Dipper to the Leo star Denebola. Click here for details.

If you’re familiar with the constellation Leo the Lion, you can star-hop to Cor Caroli by drawing an imaginary line from the star Alkaid of the Big Dipper to the Leo star Denebola.

Cor Caroli is the brightest star in the constellation Canes Venatici the Hunting Dogs. It’s also called Alpha Canum Venaticorum. This star and Chara, Canes Venatici’s second brightest star, are probably the only two stars you’ll ever come to know within the boundaries of this tiny constellation. Follow the links inside to learn more.

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.

Dates of sun’s entry into each sign of the Zodiac

 The Zodiac via Discovery News

The Zodiac via Discovery News.

Astronomy and astrology are two different systems. One difference … astrological signs of the Zodiac remain fixed relative to seasonal markers, such as the equinox and solstice points on the sky’s dome, while the constellations of the Zodiac slowly but surely shift eastward relative to the equinox and solstice points, over the long course of time. Click here for dates for the sun’s entry into each sign of the Zodiac (and corresponding ecliptic longitude) for the year 2015. Links to a corresponding article showing dates of sun’s entry into each constellation of the Zodiac, inside.