April Fools’ Night aurora? / Wee crescent ‘smiles’ again in the west

If the aurora does show tomorrow night, it usually begins as a quiet, pale green arc like this one low in the northern sky. Often the arc will double and sprout rays if the display becomes more active. Credit: Bob King

This will probably turn out to be an April Fools’ joke, but space weather forecasters are predicting a 25% chance of minor aurora storms overnight April 1-2 when several particle blasts from the sun are expected to pound on Earth’s magnetic door.

That’s the forecast for skywatchers in mid-latitudes; polar folks will see a 60% chance of a major, sky-filling aurora. Be sure to check the skies starting tomorrow evening. The crescent moon sets early and won’t interfere with even the faintest auroras.

A very thin crescent moon appears low in the western sky this evening about a half hour after sunset. Stellarium

Speaking of the moon, you can watch a one-day-old crescent put on a smile starting about a half hour after sunset tonight March 31. Find a place with a wide-open view to the west northwest and look a short distance above the horizon a most delicate crust of moon.

We see the moon tipped on its back in spring because of the much steeper angle its path makes to the western horizon at dusk compared to fall. The planets, sun and moon all track on or near the same path called the ecliptic, which defines the plane of the solar system. Created with Stellarium

During northern hemisphere spring, the moon’s path across the sky makes a steep angle to the western horizon at dusk. That’s why it’s tipped over on its back and resembles a smile. In early fall, the crescent moon’s path intersects the evening horizon at a very shallow angle, tipping the moon upright on its southern cusp.

February’s crescent moon hovers over a snow-covered road. Credit: Bob King

Later this week, a thicker crescent moon will cross the Hyades star cluster, temporarily blocking up to three of its bright stars. Stay tuned – I’ll post a guide on how to watch it tomorrow.

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About astrobob

My name is Bob King and I work at the Duluth News Tribune in Duluth, Minn. as a photographer and photo editor. I'm also an amateur astronomer and have been keen on the sky since age 11. My modest credentials include membership in the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) where I'm a regular contributor, International Meteorite Collectors Assn. and Arrowhead Astronomical Society. I also teach community education astronomy classes at our local planetarium.

8 thoughts on “April Fools’ Night aurora? / Wee crescent ‘smiles’ again in the west

  1. God forbid any of the Nibiru crowd see the moon lying on its back! They’ll start another panic! “The moon is tilted!” Help!

  2. And lets not forget about the Zero G event from 4:01 to 4:20 pm…I’m sure space agencies are taking advantage of this as an opportunity for low-cost launch. For my part, this gives me a chance to practice my dodeca back flips routine ;)

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