Oops, I missed it. April 4th was the big night to get a look at the “Lord of the Rings” when our Roman god was in opposition. Opposition? This is when the planet is on one side of the Earth and the Sun is on the other side, at 180 degrees opposite each other. This is the moment when the planet is going to be its best lit, fully illuminated by the Sun. Appearing disk-like, the planet is at its biggest and brightest, however, just because you missed April 4 doesn’t mean the fun is over. Saturn continues to be visible almost all night long and is visible to the naked eye.
As an FYI, the last opposition of Saturn was on March 22, 2010 and the next opposition will be on April 15 next year followed by another on April 28, 2013.
Why is Saturn brighter?
The web site AstroBob provides some details:
Several factors contribute to the brightening, but one of the key ones is called the opposition effect. When we face opposite the sun – with sunlight coming from directly behind us – objects in front of us are squarely in sunshine. Any shadows cast by rocks, bumps or irregularities are hidden directly behind the objects. Without shadows to ‘darken’ the scene, the view directly in front of us peaks in light intensity.
The author goes on to explain the phenomenon known as coherent backscattering which explains why Saturn’s rings also look brighter. The page shows two photographs, one at the beginning of March and another at the end of March, close to “opposition” and you can easily see how the rings appear much brighter, more distinct.
Global Astronomy Month
April is the month is get out your telescope and share with the world. Share one’s love for the sky, the stars, and all that is above our heads in a cross-border, universal celebration of the heavens. Organized by the group Astronomers Without Borders, this month long event is their attempt to bring new ideas, new opportunities and enthusiasts together worldwide, celebrating One People, One Sky.
April 9: Global Star Party
Be sure to reserve Saturday, April 9th, for GAM’s ultimate observing event: the Global Star Party. Of course, it’s B.Y.O.T. – Bring Your Own Telescope – but encourage even those who don’t have one to come anyway.
April 10 to 16: Lunar Week
The Moon—Earth’s traveling companion in space—is an integral part of life on Earth. Still, few people notice it or recognize its importance to us. A week-long series of programs, from April 10 through 16, will be dedicated to the Moon during Global Astronomy Month to help people rediscover our closest companion in space.
April 12: Yuri’s Night
Human Spaceflight became a reality 50 years ago with the launch of a bell-shaped capsule called “Vostok 1” on April 12th, 1961. The capsule was carrying Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who took his place in history as the first human to leave the bounds of Earth and enter outer space.
Exactly 20 years later, the United States embarked on a new era in spaceflight with the inaugural launch of a new type of spaceship — the Space Shuttle (April 12th, 1981). Designed to carry a larger crew and large volumes of cargo to orbit, the Space Shuttles became synonymous with human spaceflight for an entirely new generation of young people.
When the next 20-year point arrived, that generation (often called “Gen X”) laid a new space milestone by connecting thousands of people around the world to celebrate and honor the past, while building a stairway to the future. That event was Yuri’s Night, and it continues to bring the excitement, passion and promise of space travel closer to people of all ages, nationalities and backgrounds.
April 16 to 26: Lyrids meteor shower
The Lyrids are a strong meteor shower lasting from April 16 to April 26 each year. The radiant of the meteor shower is located in the constellation Lyra, peaking at April 22—hence they are also called the Alpha Lyrids or April Lyrids. The source of the meteor shower is the periodic Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher. The Lyrids have been observed for the past 2600 years.
April 17: Sun Day
SunDay, on Sunday April 17th, is a day dedicated to our star, the Sun. The Sun is the main source of energy for Earth. As each part of the globe rotates daily into the Sun’s warm and cheering glow, darkness is removed and our world is energized.
SunDay is a project intended to raise people’s awareness of our star. What is it? How does it affect us? The different layers of the Sun, solar activity (sunspots, flares, prominences, coronal mass ejections and the solar wind), space weather, energy production, helioseismology—these are all different aspects of the Sun waiting to be discovered and understood.
Astronomers Without Borders is dedicated to fostering understanding and goodwill across national and cultural boundaries by creating relationships through the universal appeal of astronomy. Astronomers Without Borders projects promote sharing. Sharing resources. Sharing knowledge. Sharing inspiration. All through a common interest in something basic and universal. Sharing the sky.
Wikipedia: Opposition (planets)
Opposition is a term used in positional astronomy to indicate when two celestial bodies are on opposite sides of the sky when viewed from a particular place (usually the Earth). In particular, two planets are in opposition to each other when their ecliptic longitudes differ by 180°.
Wikipedia: Seeliger Effect
The Seeliger effect is the effect that reflective objects that are in opposition to the sun are brighter than in other positions.
Wikipedia: Yuri’s Night
Yuri’s Night is an international celebration held on April 12 every year to commemorate space exploration milestones. The event is named for the first human to launch into space, Yuri Gagarin, who flew the Vostok 1 spaceship on April 12, 1961. In 2004, people celebrated Yuri’s Night in 34 countries in over 75 individual events. Locations have included Los Angeles, Stockholm, Antarctica, the San Francisco Bay Area, Tel Aviv, Tokyo, and the International Space Station.
Wikipedia: Coherent backscattering
In physics, coherent backscattering is observed when coherent radiation (such as a laser beam) propagates through a medium which has a large number of scattering centers (such as milk or a thick cloud) of size comparable to the wavelength of the radiation.
Click HERE to read more from William Belle
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