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Eye on the sky

Meteors, planetary movements among upcoming can’t-miss events

Last week, local stargazers were invited – weather permitting – to christen the Fort Wayne Astronomical Society’s public star viewing facility in Jefferson Township Community Park.

Armed with bug spray, lawn chairs and telescopes, you’ll find the regulars there every clear Saturday from now until November, but novices are welcome, too, society president Robert Crider says.

“When it comes down to it, most people enjoy looking at the stars,” he says. “Guess that’s why we’ve been doing this for so long.”

The new location, just a few miles east of New Haven on Dawkins Road, is an optimal spot for star viewing – flat, dark and quiet. Previously, the event was at Fox Island County Park. It, too, was a great location, Crider says, but the trees didn’t cooperate.

“After 30 years, the trees took over,” he says. “You weren’t able to see the sky’s horizon as well anymore. And it wasn’t like we could tell the tree to stop growing.”

The new observatory is in a rural setting, which provides open space and a clear view of the horizon, Crider says.

“It’s a really nice place to do some viewing,” he says. “We’re looking forward to getting quite a variety of folks out there.”

Because the horizon is unfettered, stargazing will be easier during the early evening, which will allow parents and children to stargaze together without infringing on bedtime, Crider says.

“A lot of times, when it’s clear out there, why, that’s when we get a lot of little folks and they sure enjoy that,” he says.

If you’re itching to take advantage of the warm weather this spring, there are a few can’t-miss celestial events spread out over the next three months.

But before you pack a picnic and grab your binoculars, don’t forget to check the Astronomical Society’s clear sky chart at FortWayneAstronomicalSociety.com for updates. (And while you’re there, download a spring constellation chart for the kids.)

Lyrid meteor shower

This year the Lyrid meteors won’t have to compete with the moon, so be able to see these bright shooting stars. At their peak (the evening of April 21 until dawn of April 22), you can see about 10 meteors an hour, but on occasion, the Lyrids experience a burst of about 100 an hour. They’re rare and not easy to predict, but those bursts are one of the reasons the Lyrids are worth seeing.

Where: Look for them in the constellation Lyra, which rises in the northeast about 10 p.m.

Saturn at opposition

In April and May, Saturn is closest to Earth, so while normally you wouldn’t be able to pick Saturn out of a star lineup, for the next few weeks it’ll be one of the brightest objects in the night sky. On Sunday, Earth will pass between the ringed planet and the sun, which will be great for astronomy fans. Using a small telescope, you’ll be able to see the planet’s rings when it’s high in the sky.

Where: Use the Big Dipper to find the star Spica (follow the handle of the pan and then “spike” down on Spica). Saturn stays close to Spica all night.

Transit of Venus

This event doesn’t happen at night, but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event for some of us. On June 5 and 6, the planet Venus will pass directly between the sun and Earth. It’ll look like a little black dot, moving across the face of the sun. On June 5, the Fort Wayne Astronomical Society and the Schouweiler Planetarium at the University of Saint Francis will collaborate to help local people experience the event. Check FortWayneAstronomicalSociety.com in May for more information.

The next transits of Venus will be in December 2117 and December 2125.

edowns@jg.net

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