Get set for International Astronomy Day on Saturday, April 28! This annual event, celebrating its 39th year, began as a high profile way of drawing public attention to the science and the hobby through star parties, indoor exhibits and activities. It has since mushroomed in size and scope and is celebrated in dozens of countries around the world. Local astronomy clubs will be sharing the wonders of the universe so take a look to see what events are happening in your neck of the woods. This is a great chance for you to learn about the night sky and about telescopes. If you are in the market to buy one then a star party – filled with dedicated, seasoned amateur astronomers – is the best place to find out and try telescopes. Come on out and explore the Universe.
Click here for some of the main events in the U.S.A. and elsewhere. Canadians can check out what their local Royal Astronomical Society of Canada centre is doing here. Otherwise just Google your town name and ‘astronomy day’ and hopefully you get local events pop up.
Here are just some of the highlights you can expect to see in the night sky while at your star party…
Facing west after sunset start your sky tour with some closeup views of beacon-like Venus. The planet is about 80 million km from Earth and is positioned such that it looks like a miniature version of the crescent moon through the eyepiece of a small telescope. As an added challenge see if you can pick out the planet shape through a steadily held binoculars. Turning South will be the quarter phase moon – a always a treat to take a close-up tour of its craggy surface using high magnification.
To the left of the moon is the orange-hued Mars, which at 130 million km away still presents us with a tiny disk, even through large telescopes. But if you cn get it into focus see if you can spot the northern polar cap of the planet -covered with frozen carbon dioxide.
Keeping Mars company is a star called Regulus. Located 78 light years away this blue giant – 4 times the diameter of our Sun – is the brightest member of the constellation Leo, the lion.
Finally make sure you look towards the lower southeast int he early evening and get a glimpse of Saturn and it’s rings. Considered the the jewel of the solar system by most backyard astronomers, it never fails to please – regardless if its your first or thousandth time viewing its magnificent rings. Look carefully and see if you can spot some of its brighter moons – like Titan.
Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.