The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989

NIGHT SKIES

The April Night Sky

Night Sky in April

Charlie Christmann

    Dragons in the Sky

In the northern April sky around 9:00 p.m. you can find the monster dragon Draco, created by fifteen or so stars. The head of the Dragon is near the northern horizon, and the tail curls around Ursa Minor. Except for the stars that form Draco's eyes, the stars of this constellation are not very bright. Consequently, it is quite an achievement to follow the meandering curve of the grotesque body of the Dragon as it winds its way between the Great Bear and the Little Bear.

There are many multiple stars in the Dragon constellation. An outstanding binary star is nu Draconis. The two white stars have magnitudes of 4.88 and 4.87. With a good pair of binoculars, you should be able to see both of them. Binoculars may be sufficient to split psi Draconis into a pair of stars. A really impressive triple system is 39 Draconis. Field glasses show a wide star duo; in larger scopes a third star close to the brighter one can be seen. Another attractive triple is 16-17 Draconis. With binoculars two blue-white stars of fifth magnitude are revealed. Viewing with a telescope shows another star of seventh magnitude close to one of the first two. A small scope should reveal the eighth magnitude blue companion of the star omicron Draconis.

Don't forget the planetary nebula called the Cat Eye Nebula, NGC 6543, which lives in Draco. At a magnitude of 8.8, NGC 6543 is one of the brightest in the sky. A small telescope (seventy- to eighty-millimeter aperture) shows a foggy blue-green disk; more powerful scopes are required to reveal the internal structure: a bright irregular helix. It can be found half way between delta Draconis and zeta Draconis.

About five thousand years ago the Earth's axis did not point towards Polaris, our present North Pole Star, but to alpha Draconis, or Thuban. For people living then, this star must have seemed to be as fixed in the sky as Polaris seems to us. The great Egyptian pyramids of Khufu, at Gizeh, seem to have been planned and built with Thuban as a guide when Thuban was the Pole Star around 3000 B.C. The pyramid was built in such a way that Thuban was visible day and night from the bottom of one of the pyramid's deep air shafts. Other pyramids also seem to have been planned and built with the then Pole Star as a focal point.

As with most constellations, Draco has some Greek mythology behind it:

The dragon Tiamat gained possession of the Tablets of Fate, which were supposed to confer upon their owner the power to rule the universe, and gave them to her husband for safekeeping. Then she challenged the authority of the newly risen gods and rose against them in rebellion, summoning forth out of the slimy depths all the most frightful creatures that her evil brain could conceive, monsters whose like has never been seen again. The serpents had fangs that dripped poison. There were scorpion-men and fish-men and monster-dogs. So horrible were these creations that even the gods cowered and hid themselves safely away in their airy heaven. No one could be found who would go down to meet Tiamat. No one, that is, until at last Marduk of Babylon came forward and offered to fight as their champion. He was equipped with special magic powers bestowed on him by the gods at a hurriedly summoned council of war. Thus armed, he went down to face the sea serpent in battle.

Even Marduk trembled and almost lost his nerve at the sight of the dragon and her monster brood. But Marduk had both strength and cunning. He had the winds of heaven on his side. Summoning all their strength together, he sent the winds ahead of him. The great winds blew straight into the jaws of the unsuspecting Tiamat. They rushed through her open mouth in a surging current, with the tearing force of those great hurricanes that sweep the sea. They blew so fiercely into the very bowels of her body that she was racked and split apart. Marduk finished off the helpless monster with a blow of his club. The serpents and the dogs and the scorpion men were useless without the power of their evil genius, and presumably they slunk away and vanished into that yet untamed sea from which they had come.

The Planets and Moon

  • Find Mercury low in the early morning sky late in the month. This planet reaches it highest point in the predawn sky on April 26.
     
  • Venus slowly emerges from the glare of the sun in the early morning sky late in the month.
     
  • Mars is low in the southeast at dawn. A waxing crescent Moon is near Mars on April 4.
     
  • Look for Jupiter shining brightly in Virgo all night. On April 3, Jupiter is at opposition and is at -2.0 magnitude brightness. Jupiter shines next to the nearly full Moon on April 22.
     
  • Saturn shares the sky with the Gemini Twins, high overhead about 7:00 p.m. Saturn is just south of the First Quarter Moon on April 16.
     
  • The Moon is new on April 8 and full on April 24. A partial eclipse of the Sun will happen on April 8. A partial lunar eclipse happens on April 24. New Mexico will not be able to enjoy these last two events

Dark Sky Campaign underway

By Charlie Christmann

Sandoval County is beginning to hear the need for a lighting ordinance, but we must keep the Sandoval County Commissioner and the Planning and Zoning Commission informed about outdoor lighting and the need for controls. If you would like to send a postcard to either your commissioner or the Planning and Zoning Board, let me know. I have a few I can make available. E-mail me at Sandovaldarksky@yahoo.com.

The postcard reads:

Dear Planning & Zoning Commission,

As a citizen, I request that the commission begin a plan now for improving the future of nighttime outdoor lighting in our community.

  • The increasing opaque glow in our night sky is evidence of energy wasted needlessly.
  • Lighting that produces glare in our 'line-of-sight' is blinding and a safety hazard!
  • Unshielded or excessive lighting intrudes into nearby homes, yards and natural areas.

Please design a plan to discourage public outdoor lighting that:

  1. Shines light upward into the sky, where it serves no useful purpose.
  2. Creates glare in our 'line-of-sight', or intrudes into private properties/natural areas.
  3. Is excessively bright, exceeding recognized industry recommendations (IESNA).

'Full cutoff' & shielded lighting fixtures are now offered by all major lighting manufacturers. These fixtures efficiently distribute light downward, without glare and control the spill of light into the neighboring properties and the night sky. Through these improvements we can improve nighttime visibility and public safety, conserve energy, be good neighbors and regain our disappearing view of the universe.

We all win by correcting the problems of inefficient outdoor lighting at night. For more information, contact: The International Dark-Sky Association, 3225 N. First Ave., Tucson, AZ 85719-2103, 520-293-3198, or visit the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) at www.darksky.org or IESNA, The Illuminating Engineering Society of North America, 212-248-5000, www.iesna.org

 

“Passport to the Universe” show at Lodestar is awesome

Be prepared to be awed by “Passport to the Universe,” a new presentation at the Lodestar Astronomy Center. This show is a magnificent blend of science and computer visualization. In a short twenty minutes, the presentation takes the audience from our home on planet Earth to the far reaches of the known universe. With the newest high-tech computer-generated graphics, the visualization effects are stunning.

Using the latest information available about the location of millions of stars and galaxies, the audience is able to explore the size and beauty of the heavens in three leaps of scale. The trip begins at home, in our own solar system. Here we can orient ourselves easily with the familiar star patterns we see every night. As we leave the area of the Sun and travel toward the familiar constellation Orion, the vastness of our home galaxy, the Milky Way, is realized. The Orion Nebula contains a strange and wonderful stellar nursery where new stars are being born. After lingering a short time in the nebula to enjoy the glowing gas clouds, we are introduced to our local group of galaxies and then to the Virgo cluster of galaxies, through a quick trip of several million light-years. With another leap, we can see that the Virgo cluster of a thousand or so galaxies is but a small point in the overall web of galaxies stretching as far as the best telescopes can see.

In the end, we come to comprehend that humans are but a speck of carbon on a grain of sand in an island of stars in an ocean of galaxies. “Passport to the Universe” is a humbling but uplifting experience that helps us to understand our place in the cosmos.

The Lodestar, in the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, is a joint venture with the University of New Mexico. “Passport to the Universe” opens on April 4, and will play daily in the planetarium at noon, 1:00 p.m., 2:00 p.m., and 3:00 p.m. The “Enchanted Skies” show will continue to play daily at 10:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., and 4:00 p.m. Tickets are priced at $6 for adults, $5 for seniors, and $3 for children.

 

 

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