There is an intriguing article by Donald Olson, Russell Doescher and Roger Sinnott in the April issue of Sky & Telescope. Titled “Did the Moon Sink the Titanic?” the authors explore the possibility that the convergence of three astronomical events may have created tides high enough to have caused the fatal iceberg to drift into the Titanic’s path. On Jan. 4, 1912, the simultaneous occurrence of the full moon along with its being at perigee or nearest approach to earth. This in itself is not highly unusual but the two also nearly coincided with perihelion, or the earth’s closest point to the sun, in its annual orbit that was on Jan. 3, 1912. Together the tides may have been so high that they caused an unusual drift for the icebergs. The Titanic struck the iceberg on April 14, 1912. Read this fascinating article if you get a chance.
Focus on the planets
Mercury peeks above the eastern horizon about a half hour before sunrise, making for the poorest morning appearance in 2012. Even with binoculars viewers will be lucky to glimpse the innermost planet in the sun’s glare.
Venus glows high in the west at sunset less than a degree from the Pleiades star cluster. Planet and cluster will appear together in the same binocular field.
Mars is well up on the southeastern horizon an hour after sunset as the month opens. On April 3, Mars is to the upper left of the moon. The bright star to Mars’ right is Regulus of Leo. Mars is growing smaller and fainter and a telescope is needed to spot any detail.
Jupiter is well below Venus, and much fainter, after sunset. The close proximity of the two planets that graced March skies is now over and Jupiter drops lower each night as it prepares to exit the night sky.
Saturn rises in the east as darkness falls and remains up all night, sinking into the southwest at dawn. Saturn’s fabled ring systems are still tilted for excellent viewing, and several moons, most notably Titan, are readily visible by telescope.
Uranus in Pisces and Neptune in Aquarius are very low in the east-southeast pre-dawn sky but may be spotted by telescope.
1: Sunrise, 6:17 a.m.; sunset, 7:02 p.m.
2: Look to the west after sunset for a close encounter between Venus and the Pleiades star cluster. Jupiter is below Venus and dips lower each night.
3: Mars is to the upper left of the nearly full moon tonight with Regulus of Leo to the upper right of the Red Planet.
6: Full moon, 3:19 p.m. The full moon of April is known as the Pink Moon, Grass Moon or Egg Moon. Being the first full moon after the Spring equinox, it is also known as the Paschal Moon. Spica is just to the left of the moon with Saturn a bit further to the lower left.
7: The moon is at perigee or nearest approach to Earth.
8: This is Easter being the first Sunday after the Paschal Moon.
13: Moon in last quarter, 6:50 a.m.
15: Saturn offers the best viewing opportunity for the ringed planet this year. It rises in the southeast after sunset and stays in view all night near the bright star Spica in Virgo.
18: The sun enters Aries on the ecliptic.
19: The sun enters the astrological sign of Taurus but astronomically has just entered Aries.
21: New moon, 3:19 a.m.
22: This is the peak night to view the Lyrid meteor shower with no interference from the moon. Viewers can usually expect a density of 14-23 fast, bright meteors that often leave a persistent trail. The moon is at apogee or farthest distance from earth.
29: Moon in first quarter, 5:57 a.m.
30: Mars is to the upper left of the moon after dark with Regulus to the planet’s right. This is May Eve, a cross-quarter day marking the midpoint between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. Sunrise, 5:27 a.m.; sunset, 7:39 p.m.