April 2 – 15, 2018
Mount Washington — The pattern of a great lion outlined in stars, from billowy mane to tucked tail, climbs in the east-southeast as darkness deepens on early spring evenings. The head of Leo the Lion is a broad arc of stars that leads down to the constellation’s brightest star, bluish-white Regulus, Latin for “little king.” Leo’s body stretches to the left of his head where the Lion’s tail-end, his haunches included, takes shape as a right triangle that narrows to a point marked by bright star Denebola, Arabic for “lion’s tail.”
While stargazing one recent night, it seemed to me that the regal Lion, symbol of the golden sun, was chasing winter, in the form of Orion’s dogs, Sirius the Big Dog and Procyon the Little Dog, out of the sky. Look a ways to the right of Regulus, southwest of Leo, to spot brilliant Sirius, the brightest star in the heavens. Yellow-white Procyon, the Lesser Dog, is between Regulus and Sirius. For all the dutiful dog-walkers, Sirius shines from the southwest until around 10 p.m., even in urban skies. Procyon is visible approaching the western horizon until after midnight and should be bright enough to see in city skies.
I’m on a quest this spring to observe the movements and brightening of the naked-eye planets whenever clear skies are predicted. At dusk and until nightfall, brilliant Venus appears close above the western horizon, higher every day. At dawn and into late twilight, look for very bright Jupiter about 20 degrees above the southwest horizon, not very far from the location of our evening view of Venus. Both planets are striking above the forested hills.
Breaking it to you slowly: Seeing the rest of the planets visible this spring, especially the spectacle of red Mars increasing in magnitude, requires awakening by 5 a.m. close to a location with a clear view of the southeast to southwest horizon. From Mars and Saturn in the south-southeast to Jupiter in the south-southwest, with red star Antares in between, the dipping line of celestial luminaries holds our gaze captive.
The crack of dawn is around 5 a.m. the first week of April and 20 minutes earlier by the 15th. It is well worth looking at or before these times, when the morning stars and their constellations are in full display. Sunrise is at 6:34 a.m. on the 2nd, 6:12 a.m. on the 15th. Jupiter is visible until half an hour before sunrise.
There’s something primordial about connecting the experience of evening sky-watching, before sleep, to awakening to the pre-dawn to dawn sky.
Opportunities to participate
Save the dates:
April 20, 7 p.m.: Sheffield, Massachusetts – In honor of Dark Skies Week and Earth Day, the Bushnell-Sage Library will present the movie The City Dark: A Search for Night on a Planet that Never Sleeps – https://www.bushnellsagelibrary.org/ and see trailer at http://www.bullfrogfilms.com/catalog/cityd.html