Sky at a Glance March 31 – April 7

The constellation Leo in the southern spring sky, also showing the locations of several Messier deep sky objects.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, March 31 – April 7 ~by Curt Nason

Leo the Lion is regarded as the signature constellation of spring, and it is not difficult to picture a lion in its distinctive pair of asterisms. A backwards question mark or a sickle represents its chest and mane, anchored by the bright star Regulus at its heart. To the east a triangle of stars forms the back leg and tail. Originally, a faint naked-eye cluster of stars represented a tuft at the end of the tail but that now represents the tresses of Coma Berenices.

In mythology, the lion was a vicious creature that resided in the mountains of Nemea. Its hide was impenetrable to spears or arrows; the only thing sharp enough to penetrate it was the lion’s claws. The first of Hercules’s twelve labours was to kill this creature, which the legendary strongman did by strangulation. He then cut the lion’s hide off with its claws and used the skin as a shield. A friend of mine sees this constellation as a mouse, with the triangle as its head the sickle as its tail. However, legends are not made by having a strongman battle a mouse.

Amateur astronomers often point their telescopes at Leo for two trios of galaxies; one under the belly and the other by the back leg. For each, the trio can be seen simultaneously with a wide-field eyepiece. Five of the six galaxies are Messier objects.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:01 am and sunset will occur at 7:46 pm, giving 12 hours, 45 minutes of daylight (7:06 am and 7:50 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:47 am and set at 7:55 pm, giving 13 hours, 8 minutes of daylight (6:53 am and 7:59 pm in Saint John).

The Mi’kmaq Maple Sugar full Moon occurs on Saturday, giving us Easter on the following day as it is the Sunday after the first full Moon of spring. In determining the date for Easter, March 21 is regarded as the first day of spring regardless of when the equinox actually occurs. Mercury is at inferior conjunction on Sunday and can be seen in the morning sky, with difficulty, in late April. Venus can be seen low in the west during evening twilight, setting after 9:30 pm. On Monday, early risers can catch Mars in the same telescopic field of view as the globular cluster M22, and can perhaps include Saturn with a low power eyepiece. Mars is directly below Saturn on Tuesday. Jupiter now rises around 11 pm and dominates the morning sky in the southwest.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets on Saturday, April 7 at 7 pm in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

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