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April Planets, Meteor Shower; Star Parties in Oregon Coast Range, Gorge

Published 04/15/2016 at 6:11 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Photo: a streak in the night skies above Manzanita

(Portland, Oregon) – Lots of planetary fun happens above Oregon – including Portland and the coast – this month. Tomorrow (Saturday) brings two special astronomy parties to the Gorge and the Oregon coast range to help you dig deeper into the skies. (Photo: a streak in the night skies above Manzanita).

One sizable meteor shower reaches its peak as well, but there is some bad news there.

On Saturday, April 16, OMSI, Rose City Astronomers, and Vancouver Sidewalk Astronomers are holding star parites at both Rooster Rock State Park and L.L. "Stub" Stewart State Park starting at sunset. From beginners to experts of all ages, this is an opportunity to view the stars and other celestial objects up close and personal through telescopes. Viewing highlights planet Jupiter, the waxing gibbous Moon, Orion Nebula, and more.

On the scheduled day of each OMSI Star Parties, it is suggested that interested visitors check the OMSI Star Parties web site for possible weather-related cancellations.

April is big on Jupiter in our night skies, with that planet still looming brightest above Portland, Oregon and the coast. Mars and Saturn will be fairly prominent throughout the month in the middle of the night, while Mercury may be seen just after sunset.

Jupiter will be blazing away in the eastern portion of the sky right after sunset. It then sets in the west just before dawn. In fact, the solar system's largest body will remain a bright sight for months.

For those with a telescope or binoculars, you'll be able to see Jupiter's four largest moons: Ganymede, Callisto, Europa and Io. They will appear as tiny pinpricks of light around the gas giant.

It may be easy to confuse Jupiter with the almost-as-bright star Sirius. But astronomers say you ca easily tell the two apart as Sirius is part of the constellation Orion.

Mars figures prominently in these skies as well, reaching its brightest in May. It will keep growing in intensity and quadruple its brilliance between now and then.

Astronomers say Mars is getting so bright because the Earth is starting to catch up on its orbit. They are quickly coming to a closer proximity to each other. This happens about every two years as we come between it and the sun. By late May it will be about as bright as Jupiter.

Saturn starts to show up more often this month, with both it and Mars hovering near Antares in the Scorpius constellation.

Mercury is briefly visible just after the sun goes down, and unfortunately that's as good as that planet gets for the rest of the year. Look to the horizon, about southwest.

On the Oregon coast, just about any dark beach or viewpoint is good for viewing. Some of the best viewpoints include the pullout less than a mile south of Yachats, the Neahkahnie Overlooks at Manzanita, Anderson viewpoint just south of Oceanside (immediately south of Cape Lookout State Park), and Silver Point near Cannon Beach.

Rooster Rock State Park is located 22 miles east of Portland on I-84 just east of Sandy River at exit 25. To reach L.L. "Stub" Stewart State Park, take US-26 west of Portland and turn right on OR-47. The event starts at sunset and is free with $5 parking per vehicle. Warm clothing and a flashlight with red light are recommended. Personal telescopes and binoculars are welcome.

The Lyrid meteor shower is believed to reach its peak about April 22 this year, but it comes at a bad time as this is the morning of the full moon. However, you may still some see some of the brightest streaks, so this is as good an excuse as any to step out in the middle of the night and watch the sky for awhile. Viewing moonlight on the ocean makes the Oregon coast an especially inviting place for this kind of observation. Where to stay for this event - Where to eat - Map and Virtual Tour





 

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