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Viewing of April night sky delights onlookers

By Kathleen McWilliams
On April 6, 2014

The Natural History Museum's plans for a viewing of the spring night sky from the observatory were foiled by rainy skies. Spirits were not dampened, however, and a crowd gathered at the UConn Planetarium for a lecture by physics professor Cynthia Peterson.
The intimate setting of the planetarium was hospitable on the overcast and damp Friday evening, and despite the cloud cover, Peterson's visual aids allowed attendees to visualize what will happen in the night sky this month.
According to Peterson, April is a busy month for the sky with three unique occurrences.
On April 15, a total lunar eclipse will be visible from Storrs. For those unfamiliar with the science behind an eclipse, it occurs when the moon passes behind the earth's shadow, creating a luminous red effect. It is worth staying up until 2 a.m. (prime viewing time according to Peterson) to catch the phenomenon.
On April 22, a never before seen meteor shower will be visible in the Northern Hemisphere. The Lyrid meteor shower will last from April 18th to the 26th, with prime viewing during the middle of that range. Meteor showers are colloquially called "shooting stars" and look like brief flashes of light streaking through the sky, Peterson said.
The last night sky phenomenon will occur when Mars becomes visibly close to the horizon. Characterized by its bright red hue, Mars will easily be able to be seen by the naked eye.
After a planetarium show where Peterson pointed out the major constellations of Orion, Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Cassiopeia and Leo, guests were invited to make a moon clock to follow the motions of the moon.
Peterson encouraged students who are interested in the night sky to stop by the observatory, located on the fourth floor of Bio/Physics, after 9 p.m. on weeknights for free viewing sessions.

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