Many of us are simply intoxicated with spring’s magic. The suddenly sprouting flowers, exploding willows, and the return of nature’s smells (which happens whenever the air gets warmer than 50 degrees) is almost sensory overload. But let’s include the sky in our appreciations. This coming weekend, Friday April 16th through Sunday the 18th, is an especially perfect time.
The Sun Strengthens
The Sun’s strength has grown palpably stronger on our skin. The Sun’s height determines its intensity, and right now it’s almost a full sun-diameter higher up each day. The daily sun-max, its highest point, occurs at 1 PM in every state except Hawaii and Arizona, where it has its highest-up time at noon.
In all places, the Sun’s intensity now matches the Sun’s strength in August. You heard that right. Even though it’s still mid-April, the solar rays now match those of late August. And we’d all burn or tan just as quickly now as we will then, except the still-cool April air makes us cover up. See your local sunrise, sunset, and position of the Sun.
The Moon Surrounded by Stars
The Moon will be special this weekend too. Go out at 8:30 PM, or right around nightfall. Surely at least one weekend evening will be clear, so grab this opportunity. On Friday at 8:30, see how the crescent Moon is surrounded by three orange stars. The nearest to the Moon is the planet Mars. The others are bright Aldebaran and ever-brighter Betelgeuse which, yes, is pronounced as BET’l’juice.
Also on any evening this weekend notice that lots of bright stars float around the Moon, there in the western sky. Compare that to any same-sized patch of sky in the East. What a difference! The East offers a single brilliant star, the famous orange Arcturus. But the West has over a dozen. These are the famous brilliant winter stars, now sinking into the west and soon to disappear until late next fall.
The Moon and Mars
On Friday evening, April 16, Mars appears about 7 degrees above the waxing crescent Moon. The Moon will appear about 37 degrees above the western horizon as evening twilight ends at 8:47 p.m. EDT setting a few hours later, just after midnight. See when the Moon rises and sets.
On Saturday evening, April 17, Mars is close to the crescent moon, floating just to the Moon’s right. The Moon will appear about 47 degrees above the western horizon as evening twilight ends at 8:48 p.m., setting a few hours later after midnight. See when the planet Mars rises and sets.
Then look far to the lower left of the Moon to the brightest star, which is a diamond blue. This is Sirius, the Dog Star, the most brilliant in all the heavens. You’ll see that Orion’s belt points to it. More easy astronomy: Between the Moon and Sirius is bright orange Betelgeuse.
Finally, on Sunday the 18th, the crescent Moon is now fatter and higher up. But that lovely crowd of winter stars is still keeping it company. A great time to let our appreciation of spring include the heavens as well as the Earth!