LYRID METEORS AND MOON PEAK TOGETHER by William J. Bechaver

This week, the usually spectacular Lyrid Meteor Shower peaks. Unfortunately, the numbers of visible meteors will be somewhat diluted by the presence of the full moon in the sky during the peak viewing times.

Nevertheless, it will be worthwhile to go out on the night of Thursday 21 April. Some of the dimmer meteors will definitely be lost in the moon’s glare. But the Lyrids are always spectacular, some brilliantly stunning. These brighter meteors will cut through all the haze and glare to amaze as they slice through the atmosphere in a blaze of brilliance, severing the night with a gleaming blade.

A meteor shower occurs when the orbit of Earth passes through the debris field left behind by some long-past passing comet. As the abandoned ice particles strike our atmosphere, they burn up, giving us a unique opportunity to witness the faceted wonders of planetary science close up.

Go out the following morning, on Friday 22 April, and look to the east before the light of twilight begins to enter the predawn sky, away from the Moon. This may be the best opportunity to see the meteors, as Lyra, for which the shower is named, the harp amongst the stars, is directly overhead. With good, clear conditions, you may see a very bright meteor about every couple of minutes.

Three nights later, at midnight on Sunday 24 April, the Moon will pass very near Mars. Though not one of the closest pairings, take this opportunity to view the red planet, as it has slowed to a stop in the sky, as we explored last week.

The following night, Monday 25 April, the waning moon will lie in a very crowded area of space indeed. With a ten degree circle, it will be accompanied by Mars, Saturn, and brilliant Antares, the brightest star in Scorpius. lying closest to Saturn.

And while you observe this race across the heavens, keep an eye out for a stay or errant Lyrid meteor, for the although the peak is a few days past, the sky will be a bit darker with a fading moon, and the shower usually continues nearly a week beyond the projected peak date.

Thanks for the positive feedback about our columns, and your continued interest in astronomy. If you have any questions or article requests, contact us at spacescape@rocketmail.com, or follow us on Twitter @ColoSpacEScapE for updates and viewing opportunities. We are SPACE ยท Spanish Peaks Amateur Cosmos Enthusiasts, the premier astronomical society of Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico.

MARS LOSES ITS ADVANTAGE by William J. Bechaver

As we’ve been watching over the past several weeks, we’ve been a witness to the wonders of the solar system.

Mars and Saturn have been moving meticulously amongst the stars, with Mars steadily gaining on the ringed giant. Then, a couple of weeks ago, Saturn seemingly stopped in its tracks.

The appearance of Saturn apparently becoming stationary against the stars is due to the fact that we are moving more quickly than is Saturn, and therefore, we pass it in our orbit, so the more distant planets appear for a time, a matter of days, to stand still as we zoom past, and it appears to stand still against the stars.

Mars, the red planet, took advantage of the situation to gain ground on Saturn. But now, this week, we are in turn catching up to Mars, so for a while, Mars will become stationary on the night of Saturday 16 April, and then, seemingly impossible, actually move further away from Saturn for a few days. Over the next couple of weeks, the distance between the two will grow, as Mars actually seems to recede backward, and Saturn will begin its slow, forward progression once again.

Fear not! In the coming months, Mars will finally get gravitational traction once again, and finally catch Saturn in its orbit this summer. But more on that, and excellent viewing opportunities, when the time comes.

This week, also, the Moon is once again catching up to Jupiter. Again, they will make a fair pairing like last month, but it will occur a few days earlier in the lunar cycle, and therefore earlier in the month, as Jupiter has moved a fair distance in that time. Jupiter sets earlier each night, but only by a few seconds, but over the course of a month, the difference is easily noticeable. Since it sets earlier, the moon catches it earlier each cycle, and each month.

Thanks for the positive feedback about our columns, and your continued interest in astronomy. If you have any questions or article requests, contact us at spacescape@rocketmail.com, or follow us on Twitter @ColoSpacEScapE for updates and viewing opportunities. We are SPACE, Spanish Peaks Amateur Cosmos Enthusiasts, the premier astronomical society of Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico.