StarWatch for the greater Lehigh Valley

APRIL  2004


Print Large Sky Charts For 10 p.m. EDT:   NORTH | EAST | SOUTH | WEST | ZENITH

[Moon Phases]


[Venus in Conjunction with Pleiades]

397    APRIL 4, 2004:   NEAT is Sweet
Reports from the Southern Hemisphere where Comet NEAT, C/2001 Q4, is being regularly observed, show that it is steadily brightening, but at a rate that is slightly below its originally predicted pace. During the first week of May, NEAT should become as vivid as the brighter stars of the Big Dipper, now in the NE at 8 p.m. The comet should be observable from suburban locales and easily seen from rural settings. Comet NEAT, discovered by NASAís Near Earth Asteroid Tracking (NEAT) program on August 24, 2001, is currently a binocular target from south of the equator, and it wonít be long before observers will be easily sighting it visually. NEATís orbit is tilted at a high angle to the plane of the Earthís orbit, which means that during its approach it has been stuck in the Southern Hemisphere. Since its discovery, NEAT has completed a series of loop-de-loops in the southern sky, a reflection of Earthís orbital motion around the sun. As the comet has approached the sun and the Earth, each yearly loop has become larger. Now that the comet is closing in, the next loop will rapidly catapult NEAT into the skies of the Northern Hemisphere. For our latitude of 40 degrees north, Comet NEAT will become visible low in the WSW on May 5 or 6 as skies are darkening. Because of its low altitude and residual twilight, you will need binoculars initially to spot NEAT. One week later at the same time, a slightly fainter Comet NEAT will be nearly mid-sky, but still high enough by the end of twilight to allow it to become visible to the unaided eye. The ASD Planetariumís StarWatch team is planning at least one public evening to view Comet NEAT. Details will follow in several weeks. Download a map of NEATís positions during May at the URL listed below. Click on the StarWatch button.

[PositionsComet NEAT in May ]
Comet NEAT will brighten North American skies during the first half of May. Map by Gary A. Becker...

398    APRIL 11, 2004:   The Planet Quiz Show
The Planet Quiz Show is currently running at the ASD Planetarium, an original fourth grade contest where student teams duke it out with their collective brainpower about basic solar system concepts and the latest information about the planets. The last program before the Spring Break featured the Planet Bashers vs. the Comet Crashers. The excitement was so electrifying that Dieruff students in adjoining classrooms later told me that they could hear the clapping and cheering as the Basher and the Crashers proved that education can still be very exciting. Name the four hard and rocky planets in the Solar System. What makes the sun look like it is moving across the sky? Who was the inventor of the telescope? What object in our solar system does Mercury look like? Rocks that fall from space and hit the Earth are calledÖ? Name the nine planets that go around the sun in their correct order. How do planets shine? What makes a comet look like a comet? Little hearts pound, and bodies sweat. Everyone is focused upon winning, and there is no prize except the thrill of victory itself. By the end of the second or third program depending upon my schedule, I am beat, often tongue-tied, and in need of major hydration. But it is an incredible amount of fun and a wonderful experience for the kids. If I didnít have a wireless microphone, and a topnotch sound system and the help of volunteers, like Matt Gustantino of Orefield and Mike Stump of Allentown, the program would never have achieved the polish that it has today. You can take The Planet Quiz Show by going to and clicking on the PQS banner. Go to the questions and have a ball. Just remember that youíll have to come to the ASD Planetarium to hear the thunderous cheers from the kids as they battle each other for the victory.


399    APRIL 18, 2004:   StarWatch Observing Dates
Iím getting excited about several celestial events that will be occurring in the next few weeks. The ASD Planetariumís StarWatch Team will be covering these happenings, so make a notation on your calendars or save this article for future reference. Earth Day is April 24 and youíll find us practicing our sun moves in the main parking lot at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. The planetarium just bought three full aperture solar filters, and we will have them firmly attached to the front ends of the Mack 6-inch refractor, the Meron 6-inch reflector, and several other scopes that will be brought along. If you have never seen our daystar, you might consider having a look. We will be focused on the sun between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Sunspots should be abundant. If itís cloudy, we will have plenty of bird nests that we can focus upon for close-up views. Rain cancels our event, but there will be plenty of other birding and ecology related activities occurring at Hawk Mountain throughout the day. Our solar viewing on April 24 is in preparation for one of the truly great astronomical events of the century. On June 8 between sunrise (5:30 a.m.) and 7:00 a.m., Venus will be transiting the sun. Venus will be seen as a black dot against the disk of the sun. The last time this happened was 1882. The ASD Planetarium is partnering with Hawk Mountain and Cabelaís superstore north of Hamburg, PA. Cabelaís hilltop property offers a flawless eastern horizon and ample parking for thousands. Our scopes will be set up in the back end of the RV section by sunrise. Between Earth Day and the Venus transit, we will be viewing Comet NEAT from Macungie Community Park, May 11, rain date, May 13, 9-10:15 p.m. NEAT is right on target to become as bright as the stars of the Big Dipper and will be sporting a short tail by mid-May.


400    APRIL 25, 2004:   Spring Sky
I have a love-hate relationship with spring. While I love the warmer temperatures and the outdoors beckoning a rediscovery of my local environs, I hate the onset of all of those added chores right in the beginning. And it isnít even the work. I enjoy the physical activity. Itís simply getting enough motivation to turn over that first shovel of moist, brown earth. I see it as a commitment that I am making to the land for the next six months. Well, I did it last week and even mowed the lawn. One thing I do cherish about spring and the warmer months ahead is being able to pop outdoors without a jacket for a quick skyward look. With the winter constellations pushed into the far west and southwest corner of the sky, the heavens seem a lot more tranquil. There are fewer bright stars to be seen in the spring sky, and thatís because weíre gazing away from the Milky Way. The brightest of the lot arenít even stars, but planets and the moon shining by reflected sunlight. By 10 p.m. Venus is low in the west, Jupiter is high in the south and Saturn can be found between them about one-third of the way towards Jupiter. On April 25 the waxing crescent moon is above Saturn. By April 28 a waxing gibbous moon is positioned above and to the right of Regulus, the brightest star in Leo the Lion. April 29 finds Luna above Jupiter, and by May 2 a nearly full moon is above the bright, blue-white star, Spica, in Virgo the Virgin. It really is springtime when Spica is in the sky during the early evening hours. It is also springtime when right after dark you can look high into the northern sky and see the Big Dipper upside-down. Get a feeling for the brightness of its seven stars. In two weeks Comet NEAT, trimmed with a small tail, will be in the southwest as the sky darkens and will be about as bright as the Dipperís stars.


April Star Map

April Moon Phase Calendar