Space & Science... Nerd Alert!

The Next Full Moon is the Pink Moon

And another… As I’ve said before, ever since I was little I have had an uncanny obsession with the moon, sky, and space. Below is an email I received from a fellow colleague – J.Fesler

The next full Moon peaks in the afternoon (3:19 pm EDT) on Friday, April 6, 2012, and will appear full for about three days around this time, from Thursday morning through Sunday morning.

This Full Moon is known as the Pink Moon, a name that comes from the herb moss pink, also known as wild ground phlox, which in the Eastern U.S. is one of the earliest widespread flowers of Spring.  Other names for this full Moon include the Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon, and among coastal tribes the Fish Moon, as this was the time that the shad swam upstream to spawn.

The Christian holiday of Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full Moon after the Vernal Equinox (the actual calculation of the Paschal Moon that determines the date of Easter depends upon an ecclesiastical calendar that approximates the seasons and varies between the western and eastern churches). Since this is the first full Moon after the start of spring, Sunday, April 8, 2012, is Easter this year.

Passover begins on the 15th day of the month of Nisan, which is spring in the Northern Hemisphere, and is celebrated for seven or eight days (in the Hebrew calendar days begin with sunset rather than at midnight, hence the discrepancy in the number of days).  Since the Hebrew calendar is based on lunar months (and the average lunar cycle is 29.5 days), the beginning of Passover is usually on or just after the first full Moon of spring.  This year, Passover begins at sunset on Friday, April 6, 2012.

As to other sky events between now and the full Moon after next:

In early April 2012, as dusk ends, Venus is high and bright in the western sky, Jupiter appears fainter but still bright about halfway between Venus and the western horizon, Mars is high in the southeast, and Saturn is just rising in the east.  By midnight Mars and Saturn are high in the sky while Venus and Jupiter have set.

On the evening of Tuesday, April 3, 2012 and the morning of Wednesday, April 4, 2012, the waxing Moon will appear near Mars high in the evening sky.

On the evening of Friday, April 6, 2012 and the morning of Saturday, April 7, 2012, the full Moon will appear near Saturn and the bright star Spica, rising high in the sky at near midnight.

On Sunday, April 15, 2012, Mars will appear about 4 degrees away from the bright star Regulus.

Also on Sunday, April 15, 2012, Saturn will be opposite the Sun as seen from the Earth, effectively a “full Saturn.” As the Earth passes between the Sun and Saturn this is the closest we will get to Saturn this year, so this is a good time to get out your telescopes and take a look.

Late on Saturday, April 21, 2012 through the morning on Sunday, April 22, 2012, should be the peak of the Lyrid meteor shower.  This shower gets its name because the meteors appear to radiate out from near the constellation Lyra, which rises in the northeast around 9:30 pm EDT (for the Washington, DC area) on Saturday, April 21, 2012 and is high in the sky by the time the first hints of dawn start to lighten the sky (and interfere with meteor watching).  Because this is only a day or two after the new Moon, you will not have moonlight interfering with meteor watching.  If you have clear skies and are in a dark place away from city lights, you should be able to see 10 to 20 meteors per hour, although the Lyrids are hard to predict and have rare out outbursts as high as 100 meteors per hour (“rare” meaning reported in 1803, 1863, 1922, and 1982, which suggests a 59 or 60 year cycle).  The Lyrid meteors come from the dust of Comet Thatcher, hit the Earth’s atmosphere at about about 49 kilometers per second (110,000 miles per hour), and occasionally leave trails behind them as they streak across the sky.

On Tuesday, April 24, 2012, the waxing crescent Moon will appear near Venus in the western sky after sunset.

Saturday, April 28, 2012, is the spring International Astronomy Day, when local astronomy groups typically sponsor special events and viewings.

On Monday, April 30, 2012, the waxing Moon will appear near Mars.

By Thursday, May 3 and Friday, May 4, 2012, the nearly full Moon will appear high in the sky near the bright planet Saturn and the bright (but not as bright as Saturn) star Spica.

The Eta Aquarid meteor shower will peak before dawn on Friday, May 4, 2012. Unfortunately, the nearly full Moon will interfere with viewing.  In the mid-northern latitudes (such as near Washington, DC), the Moon sets around 4:40 am EDT and the horizon begins to brighten with dawn around 5 am EDT. This meteor shower is dust from Halley’s comet.  This shower has a fairly broad peak, so you may be able to see meteors the mornings before the peak (after the peak, the nearly full Moon will remain in the sky through dawn).

The full Moon after next is on Saturday, May 5, 2012 (Cinco de Mayo).


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