The purpose of this feature is to give scout leaders, educators and naturalists an idea of some of the natural events coming up each month. We will try to cover a variety of natural events ranging from sky events to calling periods of amphibians, bird and mammal watching tips, prominent wildflowers and anything else that comes to mind. We will also note prominent constellations appearing over the eastern horizon at mid-evening each month for our area for those who would like to learn the constellations. If you have suggestions for other types of natural information you would like to see added to this calendar, let us know!
Note: You can click on the hyperlinks to learn more about some of the featured items. To return to the Calendar, hit the "back" button on your browser, NOT the "back" button on the web page. All charts are available in a "printer friendly" mode, with black stars on a white background. Left clicking on each chart will take you to a printable black and white image. Please note that images on these pages are meant to be displayed at 100%. If your browser zooms into a higher magnification than that, the images may lose quality.
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Notes From Early April 2018
Due to its great distance from the Sun, Saturn appears to move at a very slow and stately pace through the background stars in Sagittarius. Mars, on the other hand, is much closer and it changes position noticeably from day to day.
Jupiter shown brightly in the South-southwest, and the three planets made a pretty trio. This winter the planetary pickings were slim. That is about to change. This summer promises to be a planetary extravaganza!
There are times this summer when it will be possible to view Mercury, Venus, Earth (naturally), the Moon, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto all in one dusk-to-dawn evening! And that's not all. Earth and Mars will approach each other closer than they have in the last 15 years! They will not be this close again until September 2035!
Our advice? Start tonight learning the constellations and getting familiar with the surface features on the planets. That way, when the opportunity presents itself this summer, you'll be fully able to enjoy the experience!
Sky Events for April 2018:
The Lyrid Meteor Shower peaks in the morning hours of April 22nd.
Note that all times are for the central time zone. Those in the eastern time zone should add an hour to these times.
Venus sets in the southwest around 8:45pm CST at the beginning of the month. If you want to look at Venus with a telescope, try to look just as soon as it becomes visible against the bright twilight sky.
Marsis in Sagittarius this month. It rises about 1:52am CST at the beginning of the month. It's still very small telescopically, and starts out the month only about 8.5 seconds of an arc in apparent diameter. By the end of the month it's around 11 seconds of an arc in apparent diameter. Mars makes its closest approach to Earth in 15 years this summer. So stay tuned!
Saturn is also in Sagittarius. It rises about 1:48am CST at the beginning of the month. You'll get your best telescopic views just before dawn.
Constellations: The views below show the sky looking east at 9:30pm CDT on April 15th. The first view shows the sky with the constellation outlined and names depicted. Star and planet names are in green. Constellation names are in blue. The second view shows the same scene without labels. Arcturus and Spica dominate the eastern sky this month. New constellations are Serpens Caput, the Serpent (Head), and Hercules, the Strongman. As spring progresses and Hercules rises higher in the sky, look for the globular cluster Messier 13 (M13), which appears like a small fuzzy patch of light about 1/3 of the distance from Eta to Zeta Hercules (see illustration below). A cluster of stars about 21,000 light years away, M13 can be made out with the naked eye in a dark country sky when the constellation is high in the sky. Binoculars will help pick it out. It's a beautiful sight in a large telescope.
On Learning the Constellations:We advise learning a few constellations each month, and then following them through the seasons. Once you associate a particular constellation coming over the eastern horizon at a certain time of year, you may start thinking about it like an old friend, looking forward to its arrival each season. The stars in the evening scene above, for instance, will always be in the same place relative to the horizon at the same time and date each April. Of course, the planets do move slowly through the constellations, but with practice you will learn to identify them from their appearance. In particular, learn the brightest stars (Like Arcturus and Spica in the above scene looking east), for they will guide you to the fainter stars. Once you can locate the more prominent constellations, you can "branch out" to other constellations around them. It may take you a little while to get a sense of scale, to translate what you see on the computer screen or what you see on the page of a book to what you see in the sky. Look for patterns, like the stars that make up the constellation Corona Borealis.
The earth's rotation causes the constellations to appear to move across the sky just as the sun and the moon appear to do. If you go outside earlier than the time shown on the charts, the constellations will be lower to the eastern horizon. If you observe later, they will have climbed higher.
As each season progresses, the earth's motion around the sun causes the constellations to appear a little farther towards the west each night for any given time of night. If you want to see where the constellations in the above figures will be on May 15th at 9:30pm CDT, you can stay up till 11:30am CDT on the April 15th and get a preview. The westward motion of the constellations is equivalent to two hours per month.
Sky & Telescope's Pocket Star Atlas is beautiful, compact star atlas.
For skywatching tips, an inexpensive good guide is Secrets of Stargazing, by Becky Ramotowski.
A good general reference book on astronomy is the Peterson Field Guide, A Field Guide to the Stars and Planets, by Pasachoff. The book retails for around $14.00.
The Virtual Moon Atlas is a terrific way to learn the surface features of the Moon. And it's free software. You can download the Virtual Moon Atlas here.
Apps: We really love the Sky Safari 6 Pro. It is available for both iOS and Android operating systems. There are three versions. The Pro is simply the best astronomy app we've ever seen. The description of the Pro version reads, "includes over 100 million stars, 3 million galaxies down to 18th magnitude, and 750,000 solar system objects; including every comet and asteroid ever discovered."
For upcoming events, theSky Week application is quite nice. Available for both I-phone and Android operating systems. Included with Sky Safari 6.
Another great app is the Photographer's Ephemeris. Great for finding sunrise, moonrise, sunset and moonset times and the precise place on the horizon that the event will occur. Invaluable not only for planning photographs, but also nice to plan an outing to watch the full moon rise. Available for both androids and iOS.
Amphibians:, and American Toads, listen for Fowler's Toads, Eastern Cricket Frogs and Gray Treefrogs. We heard Pickerel Frogs calling on April 1st. Before listening for Pickerel Frogs, be sure to review the croaking calls that Southern Leopard Frogs occassionally make. The early calls of Gray Treefrogs sound raspier than the normal trill, as if the frog needs to clear its throat. A fairly new arrival to our area is the Green Treefrog. Don't be too surprised if you see or hear one. Listen also on warm days for American Bullfrogs and Green Frogs.
Recommended: The Frogs and Toads of North America, Lang Elliott, Houghton Mifflin Co.
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