It’s a new month, which means a new featured sight of the cosmic variety. Coming up in April, we have a month-long parade of the biggest animals imaginable, the ones that inhabit the sky. No, a wandering albatross isn’t coming to Cleveland, but the animalistic constellations of spring certainly are, though.
Look at any sky atlas and, guaranteed, there will always be animal-inspired constellations in the sky in any season. However, spring has by far the most, ranging from winter leftovers to the heralds of fall. So, what’s to see at the cosmic zoo?
Starting at dusk, one should look low in the West to spot Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, which just also happens to be alpha star of Canis Major, the Big Dog. Looking up from Canis Major, one comes to another bright star shimmering in a large void of rather dim stars. This stellar beacon is Procyon, alpha Canis Minor, the Small Dog. Before dallying any longer, look to the left to come upon Orion the hunter. Seeing the belt stars, follow them to a bright orange star, Aldebaran, alpha Taurus the bull. Winter sky done, it’s time to move into spring. Animal count: 3.
Look very high in the Southern sky to find a first magnitude blue star, Regulus, the heart of Leo the lion, which also happens to be this month’s featured constellation. Staying with Leo, look right to find Castor and Pollux, the twins. In between the bright stars, though, is a slightly twisted ‘Y’ shape of dim stars in the 3rd magnitude. These stars constitute Cancer the crab. Having found Cancer, look right below it cor a circle of dim stars, the head of Hydra, the sky’s largest constellation, which snakes (sorry) its way through over 80 degrees of sky. Following Hydra and approaching its tail, one comes to a small trapezoid of second magnitude stars, Corvus the crow. Running total of animals: 7.
For anyone who wants to stay up really late (or get up really early), there are more animals inhabiting the sky. Looking straight up at about 5am, just ahead of the coming dawn, one should see the ‘H’ shaped constellation of Hercules. Using the cosmic strong man as the starting point, drop down and to the right to come across the rather dim, small constellation of Serpens the snake. From Serpens, drop straight down to a brilliant red star low in the Southern sky, Antares, alpha Scorpius the scorpion. That done, look high in the East to find the Summer Triangle. The bottom left star is Deneb, alphaCygnus the swan. The bottom right? That’s Altair, alpha star of Aquila the eagle. In between these two giant birds lies diminutive Delphinus, the dolphin. Animal count: 12.
Racing twilight, there are more animals to spot in this cosmic wildlife watch. Looking East, there is an unmistakable square of second magnitude stars just coming over the horizon: the Great Square of Pegasus, the flying horse. Looking to the Southeast, there is another, but far less conspicuous geometrical shape, a twisted triangle of stars that is Capricorn the sea goat. Looking to the North (and visible at any time) are the Dippers, asterisms within the constellations Ursa Major and Minor, the Great and Little Bears. Last but not least, just below the Big Dipper’s handle is a pair of bright stars, the two-star constellation Canes Venatici, the hunting dogs. Final animal count: 17.
Needless to say, the spring stars make for a wild sky this time of year!
Of course, the weather is something to be considered. Astronomy, always a weather-allowing pursuit, requires one to keep an eye on the Cleveland weather forecast and, for hour-by-hour cloud predictions, the Cleveland Clear Sky Clock. Live somewhere else? Find a clock and see if it will be clear near you.
Hit the ‘subscribe button for email updates whenever I write something new!
Why not check out my national column?
National Space News Examiner
Want more? Why not check out my photography column?
Cleveland Photography Examiner
For more astro news:
Featured sight for week of 3/20: Mercury at its best
Be alert for Northern Lights
Links to supermoon photo galleries
Featured sight for week of 3/27: Venus in blue skies (the encore)
Now is the perfect time for a Messier Marathon
Featured sight for week of 4/3: thin Moons
The April Sky
April stargazing weather
Naked eye astronomy in April
Local astronomy events for April
Saturn comes to opposition
Want more? Check out my personal website:
Bodzash Photography and Astronomy