April Astronomical Highlights: The Phases of Venus
By Kelly Kizer Whitt
Venus is often mistaken for a plane because of its brilliance; it shines more brightly than all the other planets because of its location close to Earth and its thick, reflective clouds. The common phrase "the evening star" usually doesn't refer to a star at all; it's Venus. When it stands alone in the west after sunset, as it has over the past month, Venus is the first bright object to burst through the fading twilight.
In April, Venus is positioned farther from the sun. More sunlight will be cast upon its surface from our point of view, giving the planet a nearly full or gibbous shape. Later this year, as Venus comes nearer and begins to edge between the sun and Earth, the planet's overall size will increase as its phase decreases. By fall, Venus will be a slim crescent with a fraction of its surface lit as it passes between us and the sun, changing from an evening object to a morning object for earthly observers.
A view through binoculars or a telescope can show the phases of this shining planet. Both Mercury and Venus, being inside Earth's orbit around the sun, have phases similar to the moon. For pretty, wide-field photos of the planets, stars and sky, get your camera ready for the following dates:
On April 17, catch a crescent moon not far from Venus. On April 18, the moon will be mingling with the stars of the Hyades Cluster, close to the bright star Aldebaran in Taurus. Venus itself is heading into Taurus, when it approaches the compact Pleiades cluster around April 25.
A half-lit moon veers close to the Beehive Cluster in Cancer on April 22. Two days later, the moon will pass by the bluish-white star Regulus in Leo; on April 28 it will be in the vicinity of the star Spica in Virgo. The full moon this month occurs on April 29; on April 30, the slightly waning moon rises near Jupiter, which is nestled among the scales of Libra.
Insomniacs can look to the skies to occupy the quiet hours as yellowish Saturn and reddish Mars rise in the southeast. The two planets are close together at the beginning of April in a region of space chock-full of deep-sky wonders. Use binoculars to glimpse the rings of Saturn and maybe a white polar region on Mars, then scan the surrounding area for globular clusters and nebulae. The two planets lie in Sagittarius, a constellation located over the thickest part of the Milky Way that contains the direction of the galactic center. Mars and Saturn separate as the month goes on, but not before the moon joins the scene on April 7.
The Lyrid meteor shower peaks overnight April 22/23. With up to 18 meteors an hour and the moon not too bright at first-quarter phase, conditions favor a decent show.
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.
- Redwoods are the world's tallest trees.
- Now scientists have discovered they are even bigger than we thought.
- Using laser technology they map the 80-meter giants.
- Trees are a key plank in the fight against climate change.
They are among the largest trees in the world, descendants of forests where dinosaurs roamed.
Pixabay / Simi Luft<p><span>Until recently, measuring these trees meant scaling their 80 meter high trunks with a tape measure. Now, a team of scientists from University College London and the University of Maryland uses advanced laser scanning, to create 3D maps and calculate the total mass.</span></p><p>The results are striking: suggesting the trees <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">may be as much as 30% larger than earlier measurements suggested.</a> Part of that could be due to the additional trunks the Redwoods can grow as they age, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a process known as reiteration</a>.</p>
New 3D measurements of large redwood trees for biomass and structure. Nature / UCL<p>Measuring the trees more accurately is important because carbon capture will probably play a key role in the battle against climate change. Forest <a href="https://www.wri.org/blog/2020/09/carbon-sequestration-natural-forest-regrowth" target="_blank">growth could absorb billions of tons</a> of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year.</p><p>"The importance of big trees is widely-recognised in terms of carbon storage, demographics and impact on their surrounding ecosystems," the authors wrote<a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank"> in the journal Nature</a>. "Unfortunately the importance of big trees is in direct proportion to the difficulty of measuring them."</p><p>Redwoods are so long lived because of their ability to <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cope with climate change, resist disease and even survive fire damage</a>, the scientists say. Almost a fifth of their volume may be bark, which helps protect them.</p>
Carbon Capture Champions<p><span>Earlier research by scientists at Humboldt University and the University of Washington found that </span><a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378112716302584" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Redwood forests store almost 2,600 tonnes of carbon per hectare</a><span>, their bark alone containing more carbon than any other neighboring species.</span></p><p>While the importance of trees in fighting climate change is widely accepted, not all species enjoy the same protection as California's coastal Redwoods. In 2019 the world lost the equivalent of <a href="https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/deforestation-and-forest-degradation" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30 soccer fields of forest cover every minute</a>, due to agricultural expansion, logging and fires, according to The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).</p>
Pixabay<p>Although <a href="https://c402277.ssl.cf1.rackcdn.com/publications/1420/files/original/Deforestation_fronts_-_drivers_and_responses_in_a_changing_world_-_full_report_%281%29.pdf?1610810475" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the rate of loss is reported to have slowed in recent years</a>, reforesting the world to help stem climate change is a massive task.</p><p><span>That's why the World Economic Forum launched the Trillion Trees Challenge (</span><a href="https://www.1t.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">1t.org</a><span>) and is engaging organizations and individuals across the globe through its </span><a href="https://uplink.weforum.org/uplink/s/uplink-issue/a002o00000vOf09AAC/trillion-trees" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Uplink innovation crowdsourcing platform</a><span> to support the project.</span></p><p>That's backed up by research led by ETH Zurich/Crowther Lab showing there's potential to restore tree coverage across 2.2 billion acres of degraded land.</p><p>"Forests are critical to the health of the planet," according to <a href="https://www.1t.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">1t.org</a>. "They sequester carbon, regulate global temperatures and freshwater flows, recharge groundwater, anchor fertile soil and act as flood barriers."</p><p><em data-redactor-tag="em" data-verified="redactor">Reposted with permission from the </em><span><em data-redactor-tag="em" data-verified="redactor"><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/03/redwoods-store-more-co2-and-are-more-enormous-than-we-thought/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em></span></p>
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