Lunar eclipse a highlight of April’s night skies

What’s up for April 2015? A lunar eclipse two weeks after the March 20 solar eclipse!

By Bill Smith

For the Oak Bay News

What’s up for April 2015? A lunar eclipse two weeks after the March 20 solar eclipse!

NASA astronomer Jane Houston-Jones, just back from last month’s Faroes eclipse, reminds us, “The April 4 dawn lunar eclipse follows two weeks after the March 20 solar eclipse. Eclipses of the moon can only occur during the full moon, 14 days after the new moon, when the sun, Earth and moon are aligned to form a straight line.”

Oak Bay’s early risers will need to set their alarms to see the partial eclipse which begins at 3:16 a.m. The total eclipse phase lasts a few minutes on either side of 5 a.m. That’s the brief phase where the entire surface of the moon is obscured. The partial eclipse phase ends on the West Coast at 6:45 a.m.

This month Venus at sunset is chasing the setting sun in the west over Langford, setting itself,  just several hours later, at the same place in the western end of the Salish Walk of the Planets.

Now more good news for this month…With April 2015, being mostly a “moonless” month (aka a waning gibbous moon), there is a very good chance this month you will be able to see the Zodiacal Light.

We are blessed with minimal light pollution at so many places close to Oak Bay including Cattle Point. My prediction? That you will be lucky in April’s very dark sky, and be able to see the elusive zodiacal light appearing in the western sky with Venus.

The Zodiacal Light is a mysterious cone of light jutting from the western horizon about two hours after sunset.  It runs along the Salish Walk of the Planets lighting up the western end of the footpath that the planets take across the sky, a pathway astronomers call “the ecliptic.”

Zodiacal light is composed of interplanetary dust reflecting the light of the sun. It lies in the same flat plane as the planets orbiting our sun. That’s why we see it as we do, glowing gently around the ecliptic lighting the path for our “Salish Wanderers – our planets.”

Another sky treat for April – the Lyrid meteor shower – will peak on April 23. The constellation Lyra – the point in the sky the meteors appear to radiate from — will be above the horizon by midnight and overhead by 4 a.m. when the shower peaks. Between 15 and 20 meteors should be visible per hour at the peak, but there could be more!

The moon pairs up with the Pleiades and Venus on the April 20 and 21 and passes below bright Jupiter from the April 25 to 27.

First Nations Salish artist Chris Paul tells me how wonderful the dark sky is at Lauwelnew (aka Mount Newton) where his own Coastal Salish clan, the Tsartlip, enjoy wonderful dark skies and share stories about their ancient history and the night sky views from their sacred mountain.

I tell him what it’s like not just at Cattle Point, but even close to his own sculpture, The Salish Sea, just 200 metres from Beach Drive, on Spewhung Point (Oak Bay Marina parking lot). Give your eyes just 15 minutes to settle in the dark.

I like to use my Smartphone to capture images of the planets rising through gaps in the sculpture. If anyone captures a good photograph please email it to Dan Ebenal editor@oakbaynews.com

 

 

BillSmith is a Volunteer at Cattle Point DARK SKY Urban Star Park