Star hop with the Moon

Everyone likes to look at the Moon. The Moon is also a useful ‘landmark’ in the night  sky: Using the Moon as a reference point, you can “star hop” from the Moon to interesting stars and planets.

The Hyades, the Moon and the Pleaiades on April 7, 2011
On April 7, you can use the Moon to find the Hyades and the Pleiades

April 7

If you live in the northern hemisphere (the US, Canada, Europe, Japan, etc.) and you have a clear evening sky on the night of April 7, then you can use the Moon to find two very interesting groups of stars in the Name A Star Live constellation Taurus, the bull:

To the left of the Moon is a V-shaped group of stars called “The Hyades,” which represent the head of the bull. The bright, orange star in the upper, left-hand side of The Hyades is a famous star called “Aldebaran,” which is Arabic for “the follower.”  This might be because the Hyades are to the east of the Pleiades, and thus seem to follow the Pleiades as the stars in the night sky move toward the west as the night progresses.

The Pleiades
The Pleiades

Below, and to the right of the Moon is the beautiful star cluster known as “The Pleiades.”  Many people confuse this star cluster with “The Little Dipper.”  The Little Dipper is a faint, yet larger group of stars in the constellation Ursa Minor.  In fact, one of the stars in The Little Dipper is the “North Star.”  In April, The Pleiades star cluster will be in the western sky: When you face the Moon and the Pleiades the evening of April 7, you are facing west: The Little Dipper will be toward your right (north).  The Pleiades are a cluster of stars that create the shoulder of Taurus, the bull.    From classical mythology the Pleiades are most often viewed as the Seven Sisters, who represent the seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione.  But they are sometimes interpreted as a bunch of grapes that Orion, the hunter, seems to be leaning forward to pick.  The Cherokee viewed the Pleiades as boys (called “Ani’tsutsä”) who, one night, danced around and around so much that they ascended into the night sky where they remain.  The Zuni Indians called the Pleiades ‘seeds’ because their position in the night sky helped them decide when to plant their crops. The Zunis also knew that when the Pleiades moved directly overhead in the early morning it was time to harvest what they had planted, because winter was coming soon.

The Moon near Leo and Cancer
The Moon near the constellations Leo and Cancer on April 13

April 13

On the evening of April 13 (April 14 for those of you in Australia and other parts of the southern hemisphere), the Moon will be near the constellations Leo and Cancer.  If you have a telescope, take a look at the bright stars Regulus and Algieba: both appear as double stars through a telescope.  Actually, Regulus is a multiple star system, consisting of two pairs of binary stars.  Algieba is a true binary star system.

The Moon near Saturn
The Moon near Saturn, in the constellation Virgo on April 17

April 17

By April 17, the Moon has moved from the constellation Leo into the constellation Virgo.  Near the Moon is the beautiful ringed planet, Saturn, and two of the bright stars of Virgo known as Spica and Porrima.  Both Spica and Porrima are binary star systems.  However, the two stars in Spica are too close to one another to see through even the most powerful telescopes.  Porrima’s two stars could be seen through very powerful telescopes, but probably won’t be viewable through most amateur telescopes for a few more years, when the two stars will grow far enough apart in their orbits.

The Planets This Month

SaturnSaturn is at “opposition” this month.  No, this doesn’t mean we here on Earth have a grudge against Saturn: We don’t “oppose” it!  Rather, it means that Earth is between Saturn and the Sun, so that when the sun sets in the west, Saturn rises in the east — on the opposite side of the sky.  So look for Saturn above the eastern horizon around sunset: It will be the brightest ‘star’ you see over the eastern horizon.

Venus is the ‘morning star’ visible above the eastern horizon shortly before dawn.

Mars, Jupiter and Mercury follow behind Venus in the pre-dawn sky, but will be very difficult to see this month.

When to go stargazing this month

Moonlight ‘drowns out’ the faint light of many stars and other celestial objects, so the best time  to view the stars is when the Moon is not visible.  If you’re going to stargaze between sunset and midnight, then the best time to do that this month is during the first five or six days, and during the last week of April.

Finding your star in the night sky

Stars are located within constellations, which are just areas of the night sky. Scorpius, Aries and Taurus are examples of constellations. Your Name A Star Live Star Certificate displays the name of your constellation.

You can use our online World Constellation Guide to determine if you can see your constellation during the evening hours (between sunset and midnight). Of course, you’ll need a telescope to see your star. (That’s why we include the SLOOH online telescope experience in our Deluxe, Framed and Ultimate Gift Sets!) But you can see your constellation without the use of a telescope.

You can also find your constellation by using our Virtual Planetarium™ astronomy software. A planisphere is another useful device.

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