Below is Gordon Johnston’s monthly(ish) newsletter on what to watch for in the skies. Note those in North America will have a really nice opportunity to view a full lunar eclipse in a week or so. While being wowed by the beauty of the event, my mind will likely wander to the red color the moon will take on. That red will come from, as Gordon writes below, “all the sunrises and sunsets of the Earth all at once.” What’s happening there is the Sun’s light is passing through Earth’s atmosphere, getting bent a little bit, and then bouncing off the moon. But only the red light gets through well, so that’s why the Moon will be red. But that’s a critical lesson for exoplanet science, because we plan to take transit spectra of planets… and those transits will work in a similar fashion. We’ll be taking pictures of other stars, and waiting until a planet passes in front of it. The light that gets through will be filtered by the planet’s atmosphere, much as Earth’s atmosphere filters out light to make the Moon red. And based on the colors that *do* get through, we’ll be able to say something about that planet’s atmosphere. For the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) we *might* be able to say something about how nice of a home a few planets would be for life.
Tonight is the first quarter Moon, so the next full Moon is a week away, on Tuesday morning, April 15, 2014. The Moon will be “opposite” the Sun as seen from the Earth (i.e., 180 degrees from the Sun in Earth-based longitude) at 3:42 am EDT. In fact, the Moon will so opposite the Sun as seen from the Earth that it will fall into the shadow of the Earth.
At 12:53:37 am EDT, the Moon begins entering the partial shadow of the Earth (called the Penumbra), but the gradual darkening of the Moon will be undetectable at first. The bright star Spica will be just about 1.5 degrees below and to the right of the Moon. The bright planet Mars will appear about 9 degrees to the upper right. By the time the Moon begins to enter the full shadow of the Earth (at 1:58:19 am EDT) the eclipse will begin to be clearly noticeable, with the full shadow of the Earth spreading across the Moon from the left to the right. The Moon will be in the full shadow of the Earth from 3:06:47 am EDT to 4:24:35 am EDT, during which the Moon will appear a reddish brown, illuminated by all the sunrises and sunsets of the Earth all at once. After 4:25 am EDT, the Moon will appear to emerge from the full shadow of the Earth, with the partial sunlight spreading from the left to the right, with the last of the full shadow of the Earth vanishing at 5:33:04 am EDT. The Moon finally exits the partial shadow of the Earth at 6:37:37 am EDT, which, for the Washington, DC area, is also the time of moonset. For more information on this eclipse (and the annular eclipse on April 29, 2014, not visible from most of the world), see
The Moon will appear full for about 3 days centered on the eclipse, from Sunday evening through Wednesday morning (possibly even into Wednesday evening). As the first full Moon of Spring (according to the Farmer’s Almanac), the native tribes of what is now the northern and eastern U.S. named this the Pink Moon, a name that comes from the herb moss pink, also known as wild ground phlox, which in the Eastern U.S. is one of the earliest widespread flowers of Spring. Other names for this full Moon include the Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon, and among coastal tribes, the Fish Moon, as this was the time that the shad swam upstream to spawn.
This is also the Paschal Moon. The Christian holiday of Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full Moon after the Vernal Equinox (the actual calculation of the Paschal Moon that determines the date of Easter depends upon an ecclesiastical calendar that approximates the seasons and varies between the western and eastern churches). Since this is the first full Moon after the start of spring, Easter this year is on Sunday, April 20, 2014.
Passover begins on the 15th day of the month of Nisan and is celebrated for seven or eight days (in the Hebrew calendar days begin with sunset rather than at midnight, hence seven sundown-to-sundown days spanning eight calendar days). Since the Hebrew calendar is based on lunar months, the beginning of Passover is near the first full Moon of spring. This year, Passover begins at sunset on Monday, April 14, 2014.
As to other sky events between now and the full Moon after next:
Around the time of the full Moon in April, as evening twilight ends (around 8:46 pm EDT for the Washington, DC area), the bright stars of the local arm of our galaxy appear mostly in the southwest, and as the season progresses they will appear to shift west until they are lost in the glow of dusk. Jupiter is high in the sky to the west-southwest, while Mars is at its brightest for the year rising in the east-southeast. Saturn will be near its brightest for the year, rising in the east-southeast about an hour after twilight ends and appearing to rise earlier as the month progresses. In the mornings, Venus is the morning star, appearing about 8 degrees above the horizon in the east-southeast as morning twilight begins (at around 5:30 am EDT for the Washington, DC area), appearing to shift towards the east and lower towards the horizon each morning.
On Monday, April 7, 2014, the waxing Moon appears half-full, as it reached its first quarter at 4:31 am EDT.
On Tuesday, April 8, 2014, Mars will be at opposition, or opposite the Sun as the Earth passes between Mars and the Sun (effectively a “full Mars”). Because the orbits of Mars and the Earth are ellipses rather than perfect circles, Mars will be at its closest to the Earth about a week later, on April 14, 2014.
On Thursday evening, April 10, 2014, the bright star Regulus will appear about 6 degrees above the waxing gibbous Moon. For the Washington, DC area, evening twilight will end around 8:40 pm, the Moon will be at its highest for the night at around 10:01 pm, and the Moon will set around 4:30 am on Friday morning (all in EDT).
On Sunday evening, April 13, 2014, in to Monday morning, April 14, 2014, the waxing, nearly full Moon will appear near the bright planet Mars. For the Washington, DC area, when evening twilight ends Sunday evening at 8:43 pm EDT, Mars will appear in the east-southeast about 9 degrees to the lower left of the Moon. The Moon will appear at its highest for the night at about 15 minutes after midnight, with Mars about 8 degrees to the left. Twilight will begin Monday morning at about 5:33 am EDT, with the Moon close to setting a little south of west and Mars appearing about 6 degrees above the Moon.
On Monday, April 14, 2014, Mars will be at its closest to the Earth, having passed through opposition the week before.
On Monday evening, April 14, 2014, into Tuesday morning, April 15, 2014, the bright star Spica will appear within about 3 degrees below the full Moon, with Mars about 7 degrees above the Moon. They will first be visible as evening twilight ends (at about 8:45 pm for the Washington, DC area). The Moon will appear to shift closer to Spica during the evening and will be at its closest, about 1.5 degrees apart, just about the time the Moon is at its highest in the sky (at about 1:02 am EDT on Tuesday morning for the Washington DC area), while appearing to shift farther from Mars.
As noted above, the full Moon after next will be on Tuesday morning, April 15, 2014, at 3:42 am EDT. With the total eclipse of the Moon and with Spica and Mars nearby, this should be quite a show.
On Wednesday evening, April 16, 2014, into Thursday morning, April 17, 2014, the nearly full Moon will appear within about 4 or 5 degrees of the bright planet Saturn, which is near its brightest for the year. For the Washington, DC area, the Moon will rise around 9:26 am EDT Wednesday evening with Saturn rising 11 minutes later. The Moon and Saturn will be at their highest in the sky at 2:45 am Thursday morning and this is also just about the time they will appear at their closest, appearing about 2 degrees apart. Morning twilight will begin around 5:28 am EDT.
On Thursday evening, April 17, 2014, at 8:02 pm EDT (00:02 UTC on April 18, 2014), Near Earth Object (2007 TV18), between 56 and 120 meters (180 to 390 feet) in diameter, will pass the Earth at about 7.4 lunar distances, traveling at 9.75 kilometers per second (21.8 thousand miles per hour).
On Thursday evening, April 17, 2014, into Friday morning, April 18, 2014, the nearly full Moon will appear about 8 to 10 degrees from the bright reddish star Antares. For the Washington, DC area, the Moon will rise around 10:29 pm Thursday evening, with Antares rising 11:24 pm EDT. The Moon will be at its highest for the night at about 3:40 am Friday morning, with morning twilight beginning around 5:26 am EDT.
Monday, April 21, 2014, into Tuesday, April 22, 2014, is the peak of the Lyrid Meteor Shower. The particles of dust that cause these meteors strike the Earth’s atmosphere are about 49 km/s (30 miles/sec or 108 thousand miles per hour) and come from the long-period comet C/1861 G1 (Thatcher). Unfortunately the light of the waning Moon will make it hard to see these meteors, although this shower occasionally produces a “Lyrid fireball” that casts a shadow for a split second and can leave behind a debris trail that can last for minutes.
On Tuesday, April 22, 2014, the waning Moon will appear half-full as it reaches its last quarter at 3:52 am EDT, interfering with the visibility of the Lyrid Meteor Shower.
On Wednesday afternoon, April 23, 2014, at 1:21 pm EDT (17:21 UTC), Near Earth Object 304330 (2006 SX217), between 460 meters and 1.0 kilometer (1,500 to 3,300 feet) in diameter, will pass the Earth at about 12.3 lunar distances, traveling at 12.68 kilometers per second (28.4 thousand miles per hour).
On Friday morning, April 25, 2014, the waning crescent Moon will appear about 7 degrees to the upper right of the morning star, the planet Venus. Try looking a little south of east, about 10 degrees above the horizon, just as morning twilight begins (around 5:16 am EDT for the Washington, DC area).
On Sunday morning, April 27, 2014, at 2:39 am EDT (06:39 UTC), Near Earth Object (2000 HB24), between 58 and 130 meters (190 to 430 feet) in diameter, will pass the Earth at about 13.1 lunar distances, traveling at 9.92 kilometers per second (22.2 thousand miles per hour).
On Sunday evening, April 27, 2014, at 11:27 pm EDT (03:27 UTC on April 28, 2014), Near Earth Object (2007 HB15), between 7.3 and 16 meters (24 to 52 feet) in diameter, will pass the Earth at about 6.7 lunar distances, traveling at 5.88 kilometers per second (13.2 thousand miles per hour).
The New Moon will be on Tuesday, April 29, 2014, at 2:14 am EDT. This is when the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun and we are unable to see it. The shadow of the Moon will cause a rare “non-central annular eclipse” that just grazes a small part of Antarctica, with a partial eclipse visible from Australia, parts of Antarctica, and the Pacific Ocean off of Antarctica.
Beginning at sunset on Wednesday, April 30, 2014 (at 8:00 pm EDT for the Washington, DC area) through sunset on Thursday, May 1, 2014 (at 8:01 pm EDT for the DC area), is Beltane. In our current calendar, we consider the seasons to start with the equinoxes and solstices, so that in 2014 Spring started on March 20th and Summer will start on June 21st. Because the change in average temperatures lags behind the length of the day (it takes time for the air, land, and water to warm up and cool down), this approximately matches Winter with the coldest months of the year and Summer with the warmest months. In the pre-Christian Celtic calendar, seasons were tied to the length of daylight, not temperatures, so that the celtic Winter days were the days with the shortest period of sunlight (approximately), and the celtic Summer days were the days with the longest periods of sunlight. Beltane is about halfway between the Vernal Equinox and the Summer Solstice and is the start of celtic Summer, the season when daylight is longest. Some of our May Day traditions are holdovers from celtic Beltane celebrations for the start of Summer.
On Thursday morning, May 1, 2014, Venus will be at its greatest western elongation, its greatest separation from the Sun in the morning sky for this appearance.
On Thursday evening, May 1, 2014, you might be able to see the thin, waxing crescent Moon about 4 degrees above the bright star Aldebaran. Try looking just as evening twilight ends (around 9:04 pm EDT for the Washington, DC area) about 15 degrees above the horizon, a little north of West. The bright planet Jupiter will be in West about 43 degrees above the horizon.
Monday evening, May 5, 2014, into Tuesday morning, May 6, 2014, is the peak of the Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower. For the Northern hemisphere, under good viewing conditions, this shower generally produces between 10 to 30 visible meteors per hour (viewing is better from the Southern hemisphere). For good viewing conditions, the sky needs to be clear, you need to be in a dark location far from city lights, and you need a clear view of the sky. The best time to look is from the middle of the night until the sky begins to lighten with dawn (at about 5:00 am EDT for the Washington, DC area). The dust particles that cause these meteors strike the Earth’s atmosphere at about 67 km/s (42 miles/sec or 151 thousand miles per hour) and come from Halley’s Comet.
On Tuesday, May 6, 2014, the waxing Moon will appear half-full as it reaches its first quarter at 11:15 pm EDT.
On Wednesday evening, May 7, 2014, into Thursday morning, May 8, 2014, the bright star Regulus will appear about 7 degrees to the upper left of the waxing gibbous Moon. For the Washington, DC area, evening twilight will end Wednesday evening around 9:12 pm EDT and the Moon will set Thursday morning at 2:29 am EDT, followed by the setting of Regulus at 2:55 am EDT.
On Saturday, May 10, 2014, Saturn will be at opposition, appearing opposite the Sun as seen from Earth, effectively a “full Saturn.” Around this time Saturn will be at its closest and brightest for the year.
On Saturday evening, May 10, 2014, into Sunday morning, May 11, 2014, the bright planet Mars will appear about 6 degrees to the left of the waxing gibbous Moon. For the Washington, DC area, evening twilight will end at about 9:15 pm EDT on Saturday evening, the Moon will be at its highest in the sky for the evening at 10:06 pm EDT, and the Moon will set Sunday morning at 4:01 am EDT, followed by Mars at about 4:22 am EDT.
By the time evening twilight ends on Sunday evening, May 11, 2014 (at about 9:16 pm EDT for the Washington, DC area), the waxing gibbous Moon will appear between Mars and the bright star Spica, with Mars about 9 degrees to the upper right and Spica about 6 degrees to the lower left of the Moon. For the Washington, DC area, the Moon will be at its highest for the night at 10:53 pm EDT and will set at 4:35 am EDT on Monday morning, with Spica setting about 5 minutes later. By Monday evening, May 12, 2014, the Moon will have appeared to have shifted to about 8 degrees to the left and a little below Spica.
On Tuesday evening, May 13, 2014, into Wednesday morning, May 14, 2014, the nearly full Moon will appear near the bright planet Saturn. For the Washington, DC area, evening twilight on Tuesday will end at 7:19 pm EDT, the Moon and Saturn will be at their highest in the sky for the night at 12:35 am EDT on Wednesday morning, and they will still be in the sky when morning twilight begins around 4:50 am EDT.
The full Moon after next will be on Wednesday afternoon, May 14, 2014, at 3:16 pm EDT. In the evening the bright planet Saturn will appear about 9 degrees to the upper right of the full Moon, and they will appear to drift apart as the night progresses.