The purpose of this feature is to give scout leaders, educators and naturalists an idea of some of the natural events coming up each month. We will try to cover a variety of natural events ranging from sky events to calling periods of amphibians, bird and mammal watching tips, prominent wildflowers and anything else that comes to mind. We will also note prominent constellations appearing over the eastern horizon at mid-evening each month for our area for those who would like to learn the constellations. If you have suggestions for other types of natural information you would like to see added to this calendar, let us know!
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Notes and Images From March 2017
Sky Events for April 2017:
The annual Lyrid Meteor Shower peaks in the morning hours of April 22d.
Mercury reaches its greatest apparent distance from the Sun on April 1st. Look for it in the sky about 30 minutes after sunset. You will want a fairly flat western horizon. Binoculars will make it easier to pick out of the twilight.
Mars is about 20 degrees above the western horizon one hour after sunset on April 1st.
Jupiter rises about 7:31pm CDT at the beginning of the month in Virgo. It will be the brightest object in the eastern sky this month.
Saturnis in Sagittarius this month, and rise with the Milky Way around 1:00am CDT at the beginning of the month. The rings are very open right now, and this is a great time to see Saturn with any size telescope.
If you didn't get a chance to spot the crescent Venus in binoculars last month, you'll have another chance as Venus climbs into the morning sky this month. Venus is an amazing 58 seconds of an arc in apparent diameter on April 1st. On this date, Venus rises about an hour before the Sun.This results in an excellent chance to see the crescent phase of Venus with binoculars, or even (if you have excellent vision) with the naked eye.
From our vantage point on Earth, Venus will appear to rise from the Sun, appearing a little higher in the eastern sky every morning. The crescent will appear largest and thinnest early in the month. One advantage of seeing the crescent Venus in the morning sky is that you can spot it while it's still bright against the dawn sky. Then try to follow it for as long as you can in binoculars. The higher the crescent gets above the horizon, the steadier the image will be, and the brighter sky background makes the crescent shape easier to see. Use care not to let your binoculars sweep over the Sun. This can permanently damage your eyes.
Constellations: The views below show the sky looking east at 9:30pm CDT on April 15th. The first view shows the sky with the constellation outlined and names depicted. Star and planet names are in green. Constellation names are in blue. The second view shows the same scene without labels. Bright Jupiter dominates the eastern sky this month, and is accompanied by the stars Arcturus and Spica. New constellations are Serpens Caput, the Serpent (Head), and Hercules, the Strongman. As spring progresses and Hercules rises higher in the sky, look for the globular cluster Messier 13 (M13), which appears like a small fuzzy patch of light about 1/3 of the distance from Eta to Zeta Hercules (see illustration below). A cluster of stars about 21,000 light years away, M13 can be made out with the naked eye in a dark country sky when the constellation is high in the sky. Binoculars will help pick it out.
On Learning the Constellations: We advise learning a few constellations each month, and then following them through the seasons. Once you associate a particular constellation coming over the eastern horizon at a certain time of year, you may start thinking about it like an old friend, looking forward to its arrival each season. The stars in the evening scene above, for instance, will always be in the same place relative to the horizon at the same time and date each April. Of course, the planets do move slowly through the constellations, but with practice you will learn to identify them from their appearance. In particular, learn the brightest stars (Like Arcturus and Spica in the above scene looking east), for they will guide you to the fainter stars. Once you can locate the more prominent constellations, you can "branch out" to other constellations around them. It may take you a little while to get a sense of scale, to translate what you see on the computer screen or what you see on the page of a book to what you see in the sky. Look for patterns, like the stars that make up the constellation Corona Borealis.
The earth's rotation causes the constellations to appear to move across the sky just as the sun and the moon appear to do. If you go outside earlier than the time shown on the charts, the constellations will be lower to the eastern horizon. If you observe later, they will have climbed higher.
As each season progresses, the earth's motion around the sun causes the constellations to appear a little farther towards the west each night for any given time of night. If you want to see where the constellations in the above figures will be on May 15th at 9:30pm CDT, you can stay up till 11:30am CDT on the April 15th and get a preview. The westward motion of the constellations is equivalent to two hours per month.
Sky & Telescope's Pocket Star Atlas is beautiful, compact star atlas.
For skywatching tips, an inexpensive good guide is Secrets of Stargazing, by Becky Ramotowski.
A good general reference book on astronomy is the Peterson Field Guide, A Field Guide to the Stars and Planets, by Pasachoff. The book retails for around $14.00.
The Virtual Moon Atlas is a terrific way to learn the surface features of the Moon. And it's free software. You can download the Virtual Moon Atlas here.
Cartes du Ciel (described in the monthly notes above) is a great program for finding your way around the sky. It is also free, and can be downloaded here.
Apps: We really love the Sky Safari 5 Pro. It is available for both iOS and Android operating systems. There are three versions. The Pro is simply the best astronomy app we've ever seen. The description of the Pro version reads, "includes over 27 million stars, 740,000 galaxies down to 18th magnitude, and 620,000 solar system objects; including every comet and asteroid ever discovered."
For upcoming events, theSky Week application is quite nice. Available for both I-phone and Android operating systems.
Another great app is the Photographer's Ephemeris. Great for finding sunrise, moonrise, sunset and moonset times and the precise place on the horizon that the event will occur. Invaluable not only for planning photographs, but also nice to plan an outing to watch the full moon rise. Available for both androids and iOS.
In addition to earlier breading species like Upland Chorus Frogs, Spring Peepers, Southern Leopard Frogs, and American Toads, listen for Fowler's Toads, Eastern Cricket Frogs and Gray Treefrogs. The early calls of Gray Treefrogs sound raspier than the normal trill, as if the frog needs to clear its throat. A fairly new arrival to our area is the Green Treefrog. Don't be too surprised if you see or hear one. Listen also on warm days for American Bullfrogs and Green Frogs. Early April is also a great time to listen for the "yeeooww" calls of Pickerel Frogs.
Recommended: The Frogs and Toads of North America, Lang Elliott, Houghton Mifflin Co.
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Natural Calendar December 2013
Nature Notes Archives: Nature Notes was a page we published in 2001 and 2002 containing our observations about everything from the northern lights display of November 2001 to frog and salamander egg masses.
Night scenes prepared with The Sky Professional from Software BisqueAll images and recordings © 2017 Leaps.