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Clear skies for Mars and the Moon

ColumnHead-StargazingThe red planet, Mars, will be at its brightest April 8 when it rises in the east after sunset. But on the night of April 14 and morning of April 15 we are in for a real treat! (Weather permitting). Mars, at its closest to Earth since 2007, appears near another ruddy world: an unusually attractive eclipsed moon. April’s full moon, the aptly named “Pink Moon” will look particularly reddish as it slips into the Earth’s shadow starting around 11 p.m. PST. The eclipse will begin around 9:53 p.m. April 14, reaching totality around 12:06 p.m. and lasting for 78 minutes. The moon will appear reddish as it reflects red sunlight filtering through our atmosphere. Appearing somewhat closer to the eclipsed moon than Mars, the blue-white star Spica glitters.

If we miss viewing this eclipse, there will be three more chances! April’s lunar eclipse is the first in a tetrad of four lunar eclipses, each separated from the other by six lunar months.

Mark your calendars for October 8, 2014, April 4, 2015 and September 28, 2015.

Significantly, these four total eclipses align with the Jewish feasts of Passover or Tabernacles and this year’s April full moon is the Paschal Moon, the first full moon of spring followed by Easter Sunday on April 20.

Elsewhere in the solar system the ringed planet Saturn is rising before midnight now and should be up around 9 p.m. by the end of the month.

Ripples from the Big Bang made news in mid March when a team of scientists at the South Pole, using the BICEP2 radio telescope, detected primordial gravitational waves generated 13.8 billion years ago. This is the first direct evidence of the Big Bang and cosmic inflation! If verified this discovery could reveal how the universe was created.

Back on Earth, on Friday, April 11, the Royal Astronomical Society presents UBC Astrophysicist Dr. Aaron Boley speaking on “Alien Worlds around Distant Stars” at the Sunshine Coast Art Centre. To date over 700 confirmed planets have been discovered outside our solar system and our knowledge of the solar system and a wide variety of other planetary systems is expanding. The meeting commences at 7:30 p.m. Speaker begins at 8 p.m. Everyone is welcome and donations gratefully appreciated!

The public is also invited to Astro café Friday, April 18 at 8:30 p.m. at Pier 17 for tea, coffee and astronomy.

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