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2014-04-10

It's worth looking up in April

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

Some interesting things happen in the night sky later this month, so make plans to spend a little time star-gazing. Mars will be coming close for a good showing, the moon will turn red in an eclipse and the Lyrid meteor showers will zip through the sky.
According to Space.com, Mars will make its closest approach to Earth since January of 2008. Orbiting the Sun just 57.4 million miles from the Blue Marble, the Red Planet will live up to its martial name as it shines brightly on April 14 and 15. Its brightness will match the brilliance of Sirius, the Dog Star, lying just below the constellation Orion in the southwestern sky.
Mars was in opposition to the sun on April 8, so any clear night in April will be a good time to spot the planet. On April 14-15, the full moon will be soaring past Mars in the constellation Virgo around midnight, making it really easy to identify. Adding to the show will be the bright star Spica, which will be in conjunction with the moon a couple of hours before the night's really big event.
As a happy coincidence, that very same night, during the early hours of April 15, we'll have the best seat in the house to see a total lunar eclipse! The Full Moon will be transformed into a mottled reddish ball for 78 minutes as it becomes completely immersed in the shadow of the Earth.
This total lunar eclipse will be the first one widely visible from North America in nearly three and a half years, says Space.com.
The Moon will enter the penumbra at 10:52 pm CDT on April 14 leave the penumbra at 4:39 am CDT on April 14, according to the Old Farmers Almanac.
Although April's Full Moon will look a bit terrifying as it turns blood red during the eclipse, it is more commonly known as the Full Pink Moon, the Almanac explains. The name indicates it's time for the moss pink, or wild ground phlox, to bloom. Other names for this moon are Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon, and the Fish Moon.
Following the big moon show, the Lyrids meteor shower will peak around April 22-23. The Lyrids are associated with the comet Thatcher, which takes about 415 years to orbit around the Sun. It was last in our neighborhood in 1861.
The Lyrids can best be viewed by lying down looking towards the East and above.
Check for moonrise timing to find the darkest time of the night for good viewing, probably before 2 am.