Babe Among The Stars: Fiery Tentacle

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Galaxy Babe's column banner, showing a full moon and some little folk looking up at the sky

Mortal as I am, I know that I am born for a day. But when I follow at my pleasure the serried multitude of the stars in their circular course, my feet no longer touch the earth - Ptolemy

Fiery Tentacle

Last month I mentioned the Solar Storm watch, as the Sun is beginning to liven up again after an unusually quiet spell. Take a look at the photo published at Astronomy Picture of the Day on 23 March and you'll see the rousing Sun. The prominence featured is huge; our planet would fit between it and the Sun's surface! It's almost like a fiery tentacle thrashing about if you'll excuse the simile. Here is what it looked like the following day. These prominences can last for some weeks and may end up being tossed out into space as a CME (Coronal Mass Ejection). On Earth we may witness the Aurora Borealis or Aurora Australis (the southern lights), depending which hemisphere of the Earth gets the whiplash. Pretty light show aside, CMEs also affect things like mobile phones and anything beyond the protection of our atmosphere, like satellites, the ISS and any astronauts in space. CMEs occur about once a week during quiet solar periods but just before and during solar maximum that figure can rise to three per (Earth) day.

Timing of Easter

Easter falls in April this year, but this is not true for every year, it all depends on the Moon's cycle. According to the rule designated by the Christian church, Easter Day is the first Sunday after the Full Moon following the Spring Equinox (21 March), which means Easter can fall between late March and the end of April. Next year it will happen so late (24 April) that the UK will have two consecutive Bank Holiday weekends; the Monday after Easter Monday is May Day!

April 2010 Diary Dates

This month Mercury is on view in the dusky twilight sky, keeping the glorious planet Venus company. You'll need to be keeping watch in the direction where the Sun set; Mercury will follow the Sun to bed but Venus will stay up a while longer. Mars passes close to the Beehive Cluster (Messier 44) in the constellation of Cancer 'the Crab' between 8 - 24 April. The closest approach will be less than 1.5° and for that you'll need to be viewing around midnight on the evening of 15 April. The Lyrids meteor shower occurs between 16 - 25 April, the maximum (peak) will be around the nights 21/22 — the almost-full Moon will be your enemy though, it will likely drown out most of the 'shooting stars'. Between 21 - 30 April Venus will slide between two distinct markers in the constellation Taurus 'the Bull'. Look towards the Pleiades (Messier 45) on 21 April and Venus will be directly beneath. The brilliant 'evening star' will then appear to skirt past the 'Seven Sisters' towards the other open cluster in Taurus, the Hyades, which forms the 'head' of the Bull. Hopefully there'll be at least one clear night out of those ten when you may catch bright white Venus in the same binocular view as reddish Aldebaran, the 'eye of the Bull'.

  • 04: Easter Sunday
  • 10 (pre-dawn): Neptune 4° south of Moon
  • 11 (pre-dawn): Jupiter 6° south of Moon
  • 14: New Moon
  • 15: Alignment of the Moon and Mercury
  • 15/16: Mars skims the Beehive Cluster
  • 21: Alignment of Mars and the Moon
  • 21/22: Lyrids meteor shower maximum
  • 26: Saturn 8° north of Moon
  • 28: Full Moon (The Pink Moon, honouring the blossom and flowers of Spring)

  • Chat about your celestial observances at the H2G2 Astronomy Society. Comment on anything in this edition of Babe Among the Stars by starting a new conversation below.

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