NASA is back with its regular update on what to look out for in that vast open window above our heads over the coming weeks.
One of the highlights for April is the appearance of four familiar planets, strung out in a line and easily viewable with the naked eye.
The spectacle begins to take shape in the early part of this month with the appearance of Venus, Mars, and Saturn in the southeast before sunrise.
Jupiter enters the scene from the middle of the month, rising the hour before dawn to make a quartet of planets. Toward the end of April, Jupiter will be moving a little higher in the sky shortly before sunrise, making the bright planet easier to spot.
In its latest update, NASA also focuses on the Big Dipper (also known as Ursa Major or the Plough), a pattern of bright stars in the northern sky.
The space agency points out the little-known fact that one of its stars “is really two. Or, actually, six.”
It explains: “What looks at first glance like a single bright star here, midway along the Dipper’s handle, is on closer inspection a double star: Mizar and Alcor.”
NASA challenges you to “see if you can perceive them as two stars with your own eyes.” Then, peer at the same scene through a pair of binoculars to easily see them as separate stars. As you gaze at them, bear in mind that these two star systems are around a light-year apart, and around 85 light-years away from our own solar system.
NASA then goes on to reveal that although Mizar and Alcor appear as a close pair of two stars, there are in fact six. “Alcor is a binary pair of stars, while Mizar is actually four stars — two pairs of binaries. So find the unusual ‘double’ stars Mizar and Alcor in the Big Dipper in April, where what at first appears as one star is, in reality, a six-star system.”
To get more out of your skywatching adventures, check out some of these astronomy apps, many of which use augmented reality to help you more easily identify planets, stars, and galaxies.
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