Planetary Treats and Celestial Delights During Taurus
For the Northern Hemisphere
April 19 - May 20, 2010

All times are local unless otherwise specified.

Look Up!

Planetary Treats
It's Avalanche Season on Mars!
Saturn's Rare Double Aurorae
Active Volcanoes on Venus?!
Hubble Captures Jupiter's Aurorae
Where's Mercury?
Celestial Delights
Full Moon Festival of Shamballa and the Buddha
Plus ...

Sky Lights
Printable Date Tables
Moon Dances April 14-May 13
Moon Dances May 13-June 12
The Night Sky ~ Home Page
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Planetary Treats

It's Avalanche Season on Mars!


In 2008, the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was monitoring a certain region on Mars for changes in frost patterns as spring progressed, and serendipitously captured an avalanche in action. This year, the HiRISE team has been on the lookout, ready to capture more avalanches as spring approaches in Mars' northern hemisphere [roughly equivalent to April to early May on Earth]. They've been successful — and how! This awesome shot was captured on January 27, 2010 of a steep cliff in the northern polar region of Mars, and shows at least three isolated clouds of particles falling from the cliff.

The HiRISE teams says that these clouds, rolling or hovering close to the ground likely reach up tens of meters high (up to 180 feet)! The avalanches are a result of carbon-dioxide frost that clings to the scarp in the darkness of winter, and when sunlight hits them in the spring they loosen up and fall. The cliff, approximately 700 meters (2000 feet) high is made up of layers of water ice with varying dust content, roughly similar to the polar ice caps on Earth. But wait, there's more! Images: 2, 3 Yes, it's avalanche season on Mars! Complete Article: Universe Today

Scientists plan to observe this area over time to determine if this type of avalanche occurs only in early spring. They will also be watching to see if ice blocks and other debris shrink in size as solid ice turns into gas.

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which reached Mars in March 2006, has provided scientists with more data than all other current and past missions to Mars combined! Find more amazing HIRISE camera shots of Mars, taken from the MRO spacecraft at the HIRISE website.

Mars is noticeably fading from magnitude 0.7 at the end of April to magnitude 1.1 at the end of May. The combined orbital motions of Earth and Mars are now moving the two planets farther apart causing the planet to dim and appear smaller. In addition the illuminated gibbous phase of Mars is waning or shrinking. These actions result in a decline of the planet's brilliance.

Apparent Disk Size of Mars
Generate an image of Mars for any date
and time from 1700 through 2030.

The rouge-gold planet can be seen overhead as the sky darkens. It sets in the beginning of Taurus at 3:00am and by its end at 2:00am. Mars remains eye-catching as it moves easterly through dim Cancer the Crab toward the beginning of Leo the Lion. Mars and Regulus, the Lion's heart star found at the bottom of the Lion's sickle shaped asterism, are similar in brightness, yet have different hues. Note: Regulus lies between Mars and Saturn. 5/10 9pm Sky Chart Compare the colors of these 3 celestial bodies: blue-white, ruddy red and pale yellow respectively.

Bright Procyon in Canis Minor lies immediately southwest of Mars and further southwest lies Sirius, the brightest star in the heavens. Red Betelgeuse lies to the west of the Red Planet. This 4/15 10pm map is helpful in identifying and locating these stars and Mars.

Get out those binoculars to check out Mars passing to the east of the Beehive (M44) star cluster at the heart of Cancer the Crab. It's a sweet treat to see the Beehive. Compare these two mid-April maps of Mars and the Beehive: 4/13-18, 4/17 to the path of Mars for August 2009 - July 2010. Also see this retrograde animation of Mars.

Mark Your Calendar

April 21, Wednesday evening, look for the First Quarter Moon below and west of Mars, the Gemini Twins lie to their right (north); Venus sets in the west-northwest at 9:45pm and Mercury sets at 8:45pm. 4/21 9pm Map Click Moon Dances for an additional map and meditative reflections.

If you miss this Mars Moon Dance, there is an encore performance May 19. Map 5/19 9:30pm

April 22, predawn Thursday, the Lyrid Meteor Shower occurs. 4/22 3am Lyrids Map Today is the 40th anniversay of Earth Day.

Telescopic Mars

Observers who target Mars with a telescope have their work cut out for them. The Red Planet now lies quite far from Earth — some 130 million miles in mid-May — and thus appears small. Mars' disk measures 7" [*] across, so you'll need a 12-inch or larger telescope to see any appreciable detail. The only obvious feature will be the white north polar cap. Astronomy Magazine 5/10


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Saturn's Rare Double Aurorae


In January and March 2009, researchers using Hubble took advantage of a rare opportunity to record Saturn when its rings were edge-on, resulting in a unique look featuring both of the giant planet's poles. And Saturn cooperated by providing an incredible double light show with Saturn's own northern and southern lights. Since Saturn is only in this position every 15 years or so, this favorable orientation has allowed a sustained study of the two beautiful and dynamic aurorae.

Since it takes Saturn almost thirty years to orbit the Sun, the opportunity to image both of its poles occurs only twice in that period. Hubble has been snapping pictures of the planet at different angles since the beginning of the mission in 1990, but 2009 brought a unique chance for Hubble to image Saturn with the rings edge-on and both poles in view. At the same time Saturn was approaching its equinox so both poles were equally illuminated by the Sun's rays. Full Article: Universe Today

Hubble's 20-Second Movie
See the nearly symmetrical light show at both
planet's poles, plus Saturn's passing satellites.

A Must See Hubblecast - 4:14
This awesome video vividly captures what
has been learned about Saturn's double aurorae.

Saturn can be seen almost all night long. The planet is highest in the south around 10:00pm and sets around 5:00am in the beginning of Taurus and by 3:45am at its end.

Saturn lies in the constellation Virgo the Virgin west of its brightest star, Spica. The planet at magnitude 0.9 shines as bright this star, which glows at magnitude 1.0. Compare the color of yellowish Saturn and blue-white Spica. Saturn retrograde (1/13-5/30) moves westward from Virgo's dim star, Zaniah (aka Eta Virginis) to dim Zavijava; the planet lies very near Zavijava when Taurus ends. Helpful Constellation Map

Note: Blue-white Regulus, Leo the Lion's heart star found at the bottom of the Lion's sickle shaped asterism, lies between rouge-gold Mars and pale yellow Saturn. 5/10 9pm Sky Chart Compare the colors of these 3 celestial bodies. Binoculars really bring out their colorful hues.

Mark Your Calendar

April 24+25 the waxing Gibbous Moon lies near Saturn. 4/24 Map ~ 4/25 9pm Sky Chart April 26+27 look for the "fulling" Moon near Spica. 4/26 Map ~ 4/27 9pm Sky Chart Click Moon Dances for an additional map and meditative reflections.

Telescopic Saturn

Any telescope gives an impressive view of Saturn, its breathtaking rings and its brightest and largest moon, Titan.

Saturn's telescopic rings are generally opening during 2010, revealing more and more of their northern face. However, the planet's ring tilt is slightly narrowing from 5 in early February to less than 2 in late May.

When viewed through a telescope, Saturn reveals thin rings bisecting a nearly complete disk. The rings tip just 1.7° to our line of sight in the second half of May, their minimum tilt during 2010. This tilt will double by early August, and it will double again by October. By the end of the year, the rings will tilt an impressive 10°. Any small telescope will let you follow their gradual opening.

Generate images of Saturn's ring tilt as seen from Earth with the Solar System Simulator.

Every 16 days Titan orbits the planet's equator, the plane of its rings. With a  low ring tilt this natural satellite can be seen passing in front of and behind the planet during each orbit. Any telescope will show these events. A 10 inch or larger scope reveals a peach-colored, dot-sized Titan crossing the cloud tops of Saturn's globe.

May 1 ...Titan approaches Saturn. The moon passes in front of the planet (a transit) starting around 4:25 a.m. EDT. The transit lasts about 4 hours, concluding after Saturn sets across most of the continent. ... Titan's second transit of the month starts at about 2:20 a.m. EDT May 17 and lasts until 6:50 a.m. ... Titan also passes behind Saturn twice in May. The planet occults the moon May 9 beginning at 5:50 a.m. EDT. Titan disappears again May 25 at around 3:55 a.m. EDT. Observers in western North America will have the best views as Titan disappears at the start of both occultations. Astronomy Magazine 5/10

The link below will help you locate Titan and Saturn's four other brightest moons. Use a 6-inch scope to see these. They are smaller, lie closer to the planet and have shorter orbital periods than Titan: Enceladus (1.37 days), Tethys (1.89 days), Dione (4.42 days) and Rhea (4.52 days).

Seeking Saturn’s Moons
Sky & Telescope’s JavaScript utility helps
locate Saturn’s 5 brightest satellites anytime
between January 1900-December 2100.

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Active Volcanoes on Venus?!


This image shows the volcanic peak Idunn Mons in the Imdr Region area of Venus. The topographic backbone derives from data obtained by NASA's Magellan spacecraft, with a vertical exaggeration of 30 times. Radar data (in brown) from Magellan has been draped on top of the topographic data. Bright areas are rough or have steep slopes. Dark areas are smooth. News: 4/9/10

Check out the YouTube video from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It makes the above image and description come alive. Flying by a Venus Volcano

The European Space Agency's (ESA) Venus Express has returned the clearest indication yet that Venus is still geologically active. Relatively young lava flows have been identified by the way they emit infrared radiation. The finding suggests that the planet remains capable of volcanic eruptions.

Scientists have long recognized that there are simply not enough craters on Venus. Something is wiping the planet's surface clean. ... The researchers interpret the fact that the lava flows appear to have different compositions from their surroundings as being evidence of a lack of surface weathering, indicating that the flows erupted relatively recently. They estimate that the flows are possibly as geologically recent as 2.5 million years — and likely much less, possibly even currently active. "This is a significant result," said Hakan Svedhem, ESA Venus Express project scientist.

"There are some intriguing models of how Venus could have completely covered itself in miles of volcanic lava in a short time, but they require the interior of Venus behaving differently from Earth," said Smrekar. "If volcanism is more gradual, this implies that the interior may behave more like Earth, though without plate tectonics."

The above excerpts came from News: 4/9/10 Click the link to read the full article.

Venus Express ~ ESA’s Orbiter
Successful Launch ~ November 9, 2005
Orbital Arrival ~ April 11, 2006
Mission Extension ~ To Early May 2009
Currently Funded through Dec. 31, 2012
Objectives ~ Images ~ Status Reports

Venus, during the sign of Taurus, transits the constellation Taurus the Bull. Look for this brilliant planet above the sunset horizon, where it pierces the twilight, continues to brighten, ascends and stays out later as the days unfold. Venus sets at the beginning of Taurus at 10:00pm and by its end at 10:45pm.

Venus in Taurus

At the esoteric level, this potent placement of Venus reveals the urge of desire for increased knowledge. This understanding may then be transmuted into wisdom for the benefit of all. ... Here the individual is seeking out an understanding or attunement with ~the idea which embodies a particular form~. Venus in Taurus is thus quite perceptive of the quality of energy represented by a specific physical manifestation, whether this is a person or a particular object. Esoteric Venus

Mark Your Calendar

Venus leads us first to the Pleiades, a sparkling star cluster also known as the Seven Sisters, and then to two bright reddish stars, Aldebaran and Betelgeuse.

April 24-26, Saturday to Monday, Venus lies to the left (south) of the Pleiades that mark the shoulder of Taurus the Bull. 4/25 Map

April 30, Friday evening, the goddess of love lies to the right (north) of red Aldebaran, the Bull's eye and our star of enlightenment. 4/30 9pm Map

May 15, Saturday, Venus lies twixt the horn tips of Taurus, to the right (north) of red Betelgeuse, the shoulder star of Orion the Hunter; a thin Crescent Moon lies below (west) of Venus. 5/15 8:30pm Sky Chart  ~  5/15 9pm Map Click Moon Dances for an additional map and meditative reflections.

As the months pass Venus rises higher reaching its greatest distance from the setting Sun August 19 and its greatest brilliancy September 23.

Venus has phases like the Moon, which can be viewed with a telescope. The Venus 2010 Animation shows these phases and more.

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Hubble Captures Jupiter's Aurorae


NASA's Hubble Space Telescope took these combined ultraviolet and visible light images February 17-21, 2007 in support of the New Horizons flyby of Jupiter. New Horizons Pluto-bound made its closest approach to Jupiter on February 28, 2007.

The ultraviolet images show auroral emissions that are always present in the polar regions of Jupiter. They are typically 10-100 times brighter than the northern lights seen on the Earth. The aurorae are produced when charged particles from the Sun become trapped in Jupiter's powerful magnetic field. They cause gasses to fluoresce high in Jupiter's atmosphere, near the planet's magnetic poles. The equatorial regions of Jupiter in this photo were imaged in blue light ... This reveals cloud features in Jupiter's main atmosphere. Hubble's News Release 3/1/07

The Hubble and the New Horizon missions enhance each other scientifically. Hubble's remote imaging combined with New Horizons' measurements of the medium that it is embedded in, allow scientists to learn more about the Jovian atmosphere, the aurorae, and the charged-particle environment of Jupiter and its interaction with the solar wind.

Source: Hubble's News Release 3/1/07

Jupiter puts on an eye-catching performance in a dark morning sky, rising in the beginning of Taurus at 4:45am and by its end at 3:30am.

Note: As Jupiter rises in the east Saturn sets in the west. 5/11 3:50am Sky Chart.

BTW: Jupiter will be rising earlier and earlier as the months unfold. By mid-July Jupiter will rise just before midnight, making a brief appearance in the very late evening sky.

Brilliant at magnitude -2.2, Jupiter is the brightest light in the predawn sky and is easily seen above the east-southeast horizon by 5:00am. With each passing week observe Jupiter's higher placement in the heavens just before dawn. Late April 6am Map ~ Early May 5:30am Map ~ Mid-May 5:30am Map

Mark Your Calendar

May 6, Thursday morning at 4:00am, the Eta Aquarid meteor shower peaks as Jupiter hugs the horizon. The nearby Last Quarter moonlight veils the view of shooting stars, however early morning observers can still see 10-20 shooting stars per hour, watch the ascent of Jupiter and enjoy a binocular inspection the Quarter Moon's deep craters and mountains along it's terminator. 5/6 4am Map ~ Eta Aquarids Click Moon Dances for meditative reflections.

May 9, predawn Mother's Day, look for the waning Crescent Moon above Jupiter. 5/9 5am Map Monday morning, May 10, the diminishing Moon lies to the left of Jupiter. 5/10 Dawn Map/Text

Telescopic Jupiter

Jupiter makes a great target for your telescope. A small instrument at about 70x readily shows two dusky belts spanning Jupiter's equatorial region. The planet's disk measures 35" at the start of the month, but by late May, as Jupiter gets closer to us, the disk's angular size increases to 38". Notice its polar diameter spans 3" less, which gives Jupiter a distinct flattened appearance. This comes about because of its fast rotation - the planet's gravity cannot hold the bulging equatorial regions as tightly. Night Sky Info 5/10

The four Galilean Moons, the largest and brightest satellites of Jupiter can be seen in a dark country sky with binoculars. They appear starlike on either side of the planet. With a telescope you just might see one of these cast a shadow on the Jovian cloud tops.

Jupiter’s Moons
Sky & Telescope’s JavaScript utility helps
locate Jupiter’s four brightest satellites anytime
between January 1900–December 2100.
It also lists the satellite phenomena for the chosen day.

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Mercury is switching horizons, sinking out of the evening sky and rising into the morning sky during Taurus. The planet's retrograde motion, April 17/18 - May 10, keeps this messenger of the gods close to the Sun, hidden in the central luminary's glowing embrace. This is a good time to slow down the thinking process and make a leap to the intuition. A shift or change in direction begins to take place now. Allow the new incoming energies to break up the old patterns. Surrender and maintain.

Good luck in spotting Mercury. You'll need right timing, an unobstructed horizon, clear skies and helpful binoculars. You just may get a glimpse of the elusive one in dawn's early light May 12. The oldest waning Crescent Moon lies above the planet; look for brilliant Jupiter to their right in the southeast. 5/12 5:30am Map The planet reaches greatest elongation May 25/26. Dawn Map 5/26 Spring's morning ecliptic is at an angle that keeps Mercury hugging the eastern horizon.

The Planets
Is it a planet? ... What planet? When you look up at the night sky, how do you know you are looking at a planet? Learn what a plutoid is. Click here.

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Celestial Delights

The Wesak Full Moon Festival
Festival of Shamballa ~ Festival of the Buddha
Full Moon Exact: Wednesday, April 28 - 5:18am PDT (12:18 UT)


Tim Boyle imaged the Moon shining behind a large statue of Buddha in Tsukuba, Japan. Boyle captured this view about 1 mile from the statue February 2, 2007. No explanation was given for the red "flame" above the Buddha's head.

The Wesak is a Full Moon Festival occurring during the sign Taurus. An ancient legend says the Buddha, for a brief period, renews His touch and association with the work of our planet at this time. The Festival of the Buddha releases forces of enlightenment from our highest spiritual planetary center, Shamballa. These forces spark initiation and are stepped down for humanity through the Buddha, the Christ and the Spiritual Hierarchy. The Wesak Festival, when the Buddha and the Christ come together in a sacred ritual, is spiritually known to be the supreme moment in the annual cycle.

During Taurus we have the opportunity to tap into the channel of direct communication between humanity and Deity and celebrate the evolutionary blessings that come to all of humanity. It is important that groups of all faiths unite globally to invoke the divine in everyone. Together we are the Chalice, the Holy Grail on Earth, prepared to receive the outpouring of potent energies from on High.

In 2010 the Full Moon during the sign of Taurus occurs Wednesday, April 28, at 5:18am PDT (12:18 UT). The Wesak Full Moon always occurs in the constellation of Libra. Click Moon Dances for a map and meditative reflections.

Three Major Planetary Festivals

The Work of Buddha, Christ and Humanity

Wesak Global Meditation


Through The Buddha, the wisdom of God streams forth.
Through The Christ, the love of God manifests in humanity.
It is this wisdom and love which renews
humanity each Wesak. Be Blessed!


Sky Lights ~ Taurus

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Printable Date Tables
Monthly Sky Calendar and More
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