What's Up in
SW Florida Skies
Moon Phases Apr 2021:
04 12 20 27
3Q New 1Q Full Moon
The planetarium is presenting mask-wearing, safely-distanced planetarium shows 7 days/week at 12:00 noon and at 2:15 pm. Because a safely-spaced "space" show means about 30% seating capacity, please get tickets at the front desk and arrive at least ten minutes before the scheduled show time to be relatively sure of getting seats. We do have hand sanitizer stations in the lobby, and we thank you for helping us keep everyone safe by distancing, wearing your masks throughout the show and using the sanitizer upon entry. Thank you!
Our theme for April 2021 is Earth Month. We are showing four different planetarium shows this month, two on odd-numbered days and the other two on even-numbered days, so that visitors can attend planetarium shows at noon and at 2:15 pm two days in a row and never see the same shows twice! April's shows have varied themes, from climate change through the microcosm of biological life through Mayan traditional perceptions and stories of the universe, but all relate in one way or another to our beautiful home, planet Earth! Check the calendar and click on each item for a full description. We recently installed a brand-new glorious surround-sound system, so that, coupled with our new-in-2020 laser-phosphor projector (Digitarium Lambda Plus), you should have a great "being there" experience with all of our shows.
On Friday, April 16th, at 7 pm, there will be a Guide to Meteor Showers talk and video in the planetarium to get you READY for the the PEAK of the LYRIDS! The Lyrid meteor shower peaks on Earth Day itself, April 22, although for days before and after you will be able to see Lyrid meteors if you look late at night or in the darkness before dawn. After midnight our spot on Earth is facing into the direction of Earth's orbital travel around the Sun, so meteors zoom through our local sky like bugs hitting a windshield -- before midnight, they have to make it around the curve of Earth's bulk to get into our local sky!
Our friends at the SW Florida Astronomical Society's regular first-Thursday open meetings have become hybrid meetings (open to SWFAS members only unless arranged in advance, see their website (below) for contact info): Zoom for Covid-avoidance, and in-person for those who have "had it" or had their shots. Masks are mandatory and safe seating distances will be enforced (watch their site for updates: www.theEyepiece.org).
Mornings/Evenings: The sun rises and sets farther and farther north each day, and in the early morning sky the Summer Triangle is high up, announcing that Summer is Coming.
Brilliant ISS sighting: On April 12th at 8:20 pm, look west very close to the horizon (look West across the sea, especially) and you may see the "ghostly" moon appearing just north of west, and then a brilliant point of light rising from just below the moon and moving to the left (southward) over the next several minutes in a flat arc... it is the incredibly bright reflection of sunlight off the International Space Station! This will be a very good sighting, assuming no clouds on your western and SW horizons. It will appear to plunge into the sea to the SSW just below the bight star Canopus about 6 minutes after it first appears to your west.
Brilliant ruddy Mars is high and bright in the early evening around 8:45 pm -- practically overhead if you are facing SW! It will gradually move a little, heading from the horns of Taurus the Bull towards Gemini in the course of the month, but basically it will be a great overhead feature in the early evening all month long. The other insanely bright thing you will doubtless notice from sunset on (starting medium-high in the S and crossing the sky to set late-night in the W) is Sirius, the brightest star in our entire night sky -- it's brilliant white and so bright that its light refracts in rainbow flashes when the local atmosphere is turbulent (as it often is in SW FL). If you can spot the three stars of Orion's belt, with one red giant (Betelgeuse) "above" and one blue-hot star (Rigel) "below," then following the line of the belt stars to the left will bring you to Sirius -- it is "Sirius-ly" bright! It could represent a jewel in the collar of Orion's large hunting hound - think of something with the stature and bearing of an Afghan hound, facing and following Orion the hunter: that's Canis Major (the Greater Dog). The bright star just "above" it is Procyon, the main star in Canis Minor (the Lesser Dog). Together, Sirius and Procyon are known as the two Dog Stars.
Early this month Saturn, Jupiter and Mercury will be visible just before dawn (about 6:35- 6:40 above the ESE horizon) but day by day Mercury's heading closer to the Sun, so by the 10th it will be pretty much impossible to spot: Saturn and Jupiter will be higher and higher in the predawn sky as the month progresses. Remember, Saturn and Jupiter had their Great Conjunction back in December; they have been getting farther apart in the sky since then but are still close enough to be notable. Venus is still too close to the Sun to see, but by the end of April it will be brilliant and very low in the WNW after sunset, with Mercury sweeping past it on the right, from "even" on April 25th upward through the end of the month.
Just in case you missed it above, on Friday, April 16th, at 7 pm, there will be a Guide to Meteor Showers talk and video in the planetarium to get you READY for the the PEAK of the LYRIDS! The Lyrid meteor shower peaks on Earth Day itself, April 22, although for days before and after you will be able to see Lyrid meteors if you look late at night or in the darkness before dawn. After midnight our spot on Earth is facing into the direction of Earth's orbital travel around the Sun, so meteors zoom through our local sky like bugs hitting a windshield -- before midnight, they have to make it around the curve of Earth's bulk to get into our local sky!
In the wee hours (1:00 am at the start of April but 4 minutes earlier each day, so basically midnight by the end of April), if you can find a really flat southern horizon (say, from a boat, or looking at the sea southward from the end of the pier at Fort Myers Beach) you should be able to see all four stars of the Southern Cross, for about an hour from rising to setting (again, all of that happens 4 minutes earlier each day due to Earth's orbit around the Sun and the fact that we keep time by where the Sun is in our sky, not by where the stars are).
About an hour after the bottom star of the Southern Cross sets, looking South you will see a bright yellow star with a bright blue star to the right of it. That yellow star is our nearest neighbor in the entire Milky Way: the "Alpha Centauri" triple star system. The nearest component of that system, called Proxima Centauri, has planets in the habitable zone of the star, and at least one of them (Proxima Centauri b) is of "terrestrial" mass, at 1.3 Earth masses. At 4.2 light years away, you can practically wave and say, "howdy, neighbor!"
Well before dawn and to the left of brilliant yellow Alpha Centauri, you can admire the red giant star Antares in the constellation of Scorpius: the entire "curly J" shape of Scorpius is visible in the ESE to the right of the "rising Teapot" of Sagittarius in the predawn sky.
This month's planetarium shows have descriptions posted in our calendar. Just click on the individual days and then on the items in our Calendar to see a full description of the shows or events for that day.
To spot the International Space Station moving through your sky, try NASA's Spot The Station website! Or to add in the Hubble and various other bright satellites, you can try Sky & Telescope's Tracker page.
Visit the Planetarium for updates on all of our space-related wonders! You can even rent the planetarium, for your own space-themed party, wedding, memorial service, meeting, meditation session, or other cosmic event. Don't forget the masks, though, please, whether regular or space-themed.
Hope to see you soon at the Center,
– Heather Preston, Planetarium Director