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April 2011 Issue
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The night sky in April

April is a good month to practise navigating by the stars

April marks the transition between our summer and winter constellations and with a good pair of binoculars stargazers will be able to see the rings of Saturn.

Stardome spokesman Colin James says the summer constellations will be visible in the early evening and the winter constellations later in the night.

Saturn will appear in the north-east next to a bright star called Spika which is part of the Virgo constellation.

“You have to hold your binoculars pretty still so my recommendation is always to lie down with them otherwise when you’re standing up you tend to shake a little bit,” says James.

In April, Orion will be beginning to get low on the western horizon and the star Mintaka, one of three stars on Orion’s belt, shows exactly where due west is.

Directly opposite Orion as it sets, James says the Scorpius constellation will be rising and marking due east.

“So it’s a good time to use the stars for a bit of navigation.”

Orion is prominent because of the three belt stars which are all about the same brightness and form an almost perfect line.

Directly opposite, as those three stars draw close to the horizon, Scorpius will be rising and easily identified because of the curve of its stars and its tail.

James also recommends stargazers use binoculars to see Orion’s Nebula. The Nebula is the middle star of three stars comprising Orion’s sword which hangs off his belt.

“Through a good pair of binoculars you’ll see there’s a kind of cloud in the sky which is basically a region where stars are forming. It’s a huge cloud of hydrogen gas and it’s known as a star formation region,” says James.

PIX: Saturn: The rings of Saturn should be visible in April with a good pair of binoculars Credit: Stardome