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Volume xviii, Issue 15 ~ Apri 15 to April 21, 2010

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Sky Watch

by J. Alex Knoll

Fuzzballs and Fireballs

The moon visits three star clusters,
while the Lyrids light up the night

Around 7:45 at week’s end, look to the west for the nascent crescent moon emerging from the setting sun’s glare. Thursday night you have but a fleeting chance to catch this ever-so-thin moon, as it tightly hugs the horizon and sets just after 9pm. If you are lucky enough to spot it, look a couple degrees beneath the crescent’s lower tip for elusive Mercury and, a few degrees farther, brilliant Venus.

Friday the moon appears a bit higher and a bit fuller at sunset, with the crescent pointing up. This evening, Venus shines seven degrees — less than the space obscured by your fist extended at arm’s length — below the outer curve of the illuminated crescent. At the opposite edge of the moon’s darkened disc, look for the blurry asterism of the Pleiades star cluster.

Saturday, the moon is beside another star cluster, this time the Hyades, while Aldebaran, the red eye of Taurus the bull, glares a few degrees to the south.

The Pleiades and the Hyades, famed for their roles in Greek mythology, are two of the most prominent star clusters in the heavens. Wednesday evening, the moon joins the third-most prominent, the Beehive cluster at the center of the constellation Cancer.

Already streaks of light blaze across our late-evening and early-morning skies from the annual Lyrid meteor shower. While the Lyrids don’t peak until April 22, this shower offers many nights of steady activity, delivering up to 15 shooting stars an hour. The trade-off for this prolonged activity is a wimper of a climax, typically peaking at 30 meteors an hour.

Look to the bright star Vega in the constellation Lyra, which rises in the northeast around 10pm and from which the meteors appear to emanate. As dawn approaches, Vega shines directly overhead, and the Lyrids seem to shoot in every direction.

Illustration: © Copyright 1925 M.C. Escher/Cordon Art-Baarn-Holland; Graphics: © Copyright 2010 Pacific Publishers. Reprinted by permission from the Tidelog graphic almanac. Bound copies of the annual Tidelog for Chesapeake Bay are $14.95 ppd. from Pacific Publishers, Box 480, Bolinas, CA 94924. Phone 415-868-2909. Weather affects tides. This information is believed to be reliable but no guarantee of accuracy is made by Bay Weekly or Pacific Publishers. The actual layout of Tidelog differs from that used in Bay Weekly. Tidelog graphics are repositioned to reflect Bay Weekly’s distribution cycle.Tides are based on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and are positioned to coincide with high and low tides of Tidelog.

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