David L. Richards

If you need a break from finishing up your 1040 on April 15, take a few minutes to watch the lunar eclipse that begins at 1 a.m.

You won’t notice much until about 2 a.m. when the umbra, the darkest phase of the Earth’s shadow, begins to creep over the moon. By 3 a.m. the moon is fully eclipsed. Then about 4:30 a.m., it slowly begins to emerge from Earth’s shadow and is once again fully illuminated by 6:36 a.m.

On Tuesday, Mars rises at 8:25 p.m. in Virgo, while Jupiter is already high in Gemini. On April 14, Mars is at its closest in over a decade at 59 million miles distant, and will peak in brilliance this month at magnitude –1.4. On that same night the full moon, Mars and Spica — in Virgo — lie within a 10-degree circle, the span of your closed fist at arm’s length.

Saturn rises in Libra at 11:06 p.m. on the east-southeast horizon on Tuesday, and as dawn approaches, Venus appears on the horizon at 5:15 a.m., but Mercury is hidden in the sun’s glare, rising at 6:32 a.m. Venus and Neptune appear in the field of a pair of 7 x 50 binoculars April 5-18, passing on April 12 only 1 degree apart in the east-southeast at dawn.

The Lyrid meteor shower peaks during the dawn hours of April 22. Usually not a major shower to begin with, the last quarter moon will obscure all but the brightest meteors of the 10 to 20 that may be seen each hour.

Q&A

Q: I have noticed on some star charts that some objects have an “M” in front of a number. What does the “M” mean? — W R., Akron.

A: “M” stands for “Messier.” Charles Messier was a French astronomer and comet-hunter in the mid-1700s. He catalogued about 109 “fuzzy spots” as an aid to other comet-hunters so they could more easily exclude these fixed spots during their search for similarly appearing comets.

His catalog turned out to be a compilation of the most interesting and beautiful deep-sky objects that we now know as nebulae, galaxies, star clusters and supernova remnants. He also included the spots known from antiquity, such as the Pleiades and the Beehive. For example, the Great Orion Nebula is M42 and the Andromeda Galaxy is M31.

Some serious amateur astro­nomers will occasionally engage in a “Messier Marathon,” an attempt to spot all Messier objects in one night.

Programs

The Hoover-Price Planetarium will present African-American Astronomers, Astronauts & Astrophysicists as a second show on weekends through April 27, after the normally scheduled showing of The Universe at Large, the new program for 2014. The special showing is designed to accompany the museum’s Keller Gallery exhibit Black Wings: American Dreams of Flight.

The programs will begin at 1 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. The planetarium is free with museum admission.

David L. Richards is director of the Hoover-Price Planetarium at the McKinley Presidential Library and Museum, 800 McKinley Monument Drive NW, Canton, OH 44708, www.mckinleymuseum.org. He can be reached at 330-455-7043 or email hooverpriceplanetarium@hotmail.com.