Lifestyle

April putting on a lunar feast for red moon stargazers

This year brings us two lunar eclipses, the first at a family-friendly time on April 15, the second shortly before midnight in October. Photo / NASA
This year brings us two lunar eclipses, the first at a family-friendly time on April 15, the second shortly before midnight in October. Photo / NASA

APRIL is putting on a feast for stargazers, with the red planet looming large in the night sky and a lunar eclipse painting the moon itself red - and don't forget Yuri Gagarin. Science reporter Jamie Morton explains.

ABOVE us, our nearest, potentially habitable planet is being explored by three spacecraft in its orbit and two on its surface.

But the closest the rest of us are likely to come to Mars will be on April 14, when the red planet will be at its closest approach to Earth - a relatively short hop of 90 million kilometres away.

On average, Mars laps our planet every 780 days.

On Tuesday of next week, Mars will reach what astronomers call "opposition" as Earth overtakes it in its orbit, although it is actually closest to Earth six days later.

At opposition means that the object - in this case, Mars - along with Earth and the sun are 180 degrees apart in the sky, so the object rises as the sun sets.

While it will be even closer in 2018, this is the closest to Earth it has been since 2003, when Mars came within 58 million kilometres of our planet.

To the naked eye, Mars will be very bright and noticeably reddish in colour, and at the moment can be seen in the northeast of our sky at mid-evening.

Its distinctive dark markings, viewable through a good telescope, have been noted for centuries, but it has only been in the last 40 years that they have been understood as sporadic global dust storms and seasonal changes in polar ice coverage.

"Although tiny Mars is at its closest, a clear view even with a good sized telescope can be rather difficult," said Stardome astronomy educator David Britten.

"A steady tripod is essential, and you need to be patient and wait for the local cloud and atmospheric conditions to settle.

"The surface is clear at present, but there could be a massive Martian dust storm that clouds the atmosphere and blocks the view of the entire surface for months."

Lunar eclipse

This year brings us two lunar eclipses, the first at a family-friendly time on April 15, the second shortly before midnight in October.

This month's eclipse will be special because it starts soon after the sun sets, and from a high vantage point looking east, spectators will be able to see the moon rise from 6pm and move within the Earth's shadow to be completely eclipsed by 7.08pm.

Andrew Buckingham of the Auckland Astronomy Society said that the moon would appear a blood red.

This was because light from the sun was being reflected off the Earth on to it, creating a reddish colour that can often be seen at sunset or sunrise.

At that point, the eclipse would be at "totality", when the moon will be 15 degrees above a flat horizon, but less if there are hills.

By 7.46pm, the moon will be at maximum eclipse, and when totality ends at 8.23pm the moon will be sitting 30 degrees above the eastern horizon.

Mr Britten said watching the full moon rising darker and darker, rather than the usual large bright disc, would feel quite strange. "To see the moon disappear during the eclipse, all you need is a good view of the eastern horizon."

By 9.32pm, the moon will be completely out of the Earth's umbra (full) shadow, and will appear slightly dim because it will still be within the penumbral shadow until 10.36pm, when the eclipse finally ends.

Mr Buckingham said while lunar eclipses were not uncommon, this month's event would be special as it came at a time of year and night when we could all appreciate it.

"It's April, so it will be warm enough to go down to the beach with a picnic and watch it happen."

Members of the society will be gathering at Browns Bay, Cheltenham Beach, Eastern Beach, One Tree Hill and the Arataki Visitors Centre in the Waitakere Ranges.

"People are welcome to join us, but anywhere you can get up a high hill or out to an eastern beach with a clear view across ocean is the place to be."

First human in space
For space enthusiasts keen for more than just an overhead spectacle, Stardome is celebrating the anniversary of the first time a human journeyed into outer space.

On April 12, 1961, at the height of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin completed an orbit of the Earth in the Vostok 3KA spacecraft.

The date - on which Nasa also launched its space shuttle Columbia in 1981 - is named the "International Day of Human Space Flight" and "Yuri's Night", celebrated by space lovers each year.
 

Topics:  editors picks, lunar eclipse, moon


Stay Connected

Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.

Programmers' joke is on us

Dr Airdre Grant

Computers - it's a love/hate relationship.

How to manage sustainability

Deborah Benhayon - Open For Business.

What business has to do to maintain sustainable development.

From purr to a roar, Meow Meow is not kitten

ANYTHING IS PAWSIBLE: Acclaimed cabaret star Meow Meow returns to Lismore.

Anything can happen during her local shows this week

Local Partners

PM boasts of our ruthless borders

Borders made easier by a land girt by sea.

Why we're the top spot for mobile tourists

Caravanners and campers spend an average $152 a night in our region.

Our region is the top spot for caravanners and campers in the state.

Programmers' joke is on us

Dr Airdre Grant

Computers - it's a love/hate relationship.

How to manage sustainability

Deborah Benhayon - Open For Business.

What business has to do to maintain sustainable development.

From purr to a roar, Meow Meow is not kitten

ANYTHING IS PAWSIBLE: Acclaimed cabaret star Meow Meow returns to Lismore.

Anything can happen during her local shows this week

Not just any party, it's the Arty Party!

FOR ALL: The event will feature performers, local artists, storytellers, musicians and dancers.

A family-friendly, child-focused arts festival

More Northern River schools needed to be counted in

John Foreman and Jay Laga'aia at a songwriting workshop earlier this year.

Music - Count Us In will be held in November

All she wants is to be chosen

TAKE ME HOME: Daisy from pet shop to pound to your place.

Daisy has gone from puppy farm pet shop dog to the pound.

Britney Spears smoked cannabis as a teenager

Britney Spears

Britney Spears experimented with cannabis when she was 17.

Lady Gaga confirms Super Bowl show

Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga to perform in coveted spot

Girls actors give emotional tributes to hit show

Actor Allison Williams

Actors farewell smash hit HBO show Girls after six seasons

Janet Jackson's pregnancy is 'best thing'

Janet Jackson

Janet Jackson can't wait to become a mum

Jay Z signs two-year movie and TV deal

Rapper Jay Z

Rapper Jay Z has signed a television and movie deal

Nowhere to Hyde: Matt Nable is Australia's man in demand

Matt Nable stars as Detective Gary Hyde in the TV series Hyde & Seek.

NABLE returns to the small screen amidst busy film work.

Beach-side real estate starts at $85k on Fraser Coast

HERVEY BAY REAL ESTATE: You can buy this townhouse in Scarness for under $300k.

Live your beach-living dream locally.

UPDATE: Former rodeo champ's sale rained out, now back on

Larkhill local Ken Consiglio is having an auction of most of the things on his property.

'People kept showing up and we had to turn them away'

Couple build their own 'tiny house' for $45k

Holly Bowen and Oli Bucher built their "tiny house" themselves, only hiring a plumber and an electrician. Photo/supplied

The house, which is built on a trailer and can be towed.

Sunshine Beach property breaks real estate record

The property overlooks Sunshine Beach, as the backyard lawn meets the sand.

Sunshine Beach mansion sale smashes real estate record

SOLD: Historic hotel finds new owner

Post Office Hotel Grafton

Photo Adam Hourigan / The Daily Examiner

Pub in new hands and heading in a brand new direction

Peppers Airlie Beach put on the market

ON THE MARKET: Peppers Airlie Beach is being for recievership sale by CBRE Hotels and PRD Nationwide Airlie Beach.

Peppers Airlie Beach is being offered for sale.