Huestis: Astronomical Events Determine Easter Observance
Sunday, April 02, 2017
It should therefore not be surprising that many religions observances would likewise be established, in connection to these same astronomical circumstances. Christians, for instance, observe Easter every year, but the date for the celebration changes. Since we can barely even remember birthdays and anniversaries that always occur on the same date, it’s time for me to enlighten you with the facts of how the date for Easter is determined.
Easter can occur as early as March 22 or as late as April 25. Why this range? The story began many moons ago when the Christian Church first developed. Since this holy day was determined in conjunction with Passover, Easter often fell on a weekday. However, in 352 CE the Council of Nicaea declared that it should always fall on a Sunday. They determined that Easter would fall on the first Sunday after the Full Moon on or next after the vernal equinox (spring—March 20 or 21). However, if the Full Moon occurred on a Sunday, Easter is celebrated on the following Sunday. This scenario happened in 2001.
This year the vernal equinox was on Monday, March 20, at 6:28am EDT. The Full Moon on or after that date occurs on Tuesday, April 11, at 2:08am EDT. Therefore, Easter is celebrated on Sunday, April 16, just nine days before the latest possible date for the event.
April Observing Opportunities
By April 1st that brilliant beacon Venus that had been so prominent in the western sky after sunset will be lost to solar glare. However, this planet, named for the goddess of love, will soon reappear above the eastern horizon before sunrise. Look for it low in the sky around the second week in April. And on April, you can spot our innermost planet of our solar system, Mercury, just above the sunset point for a few days. You’ll need an unobstructed view of the horizon to have any chance of success.
Furthermore, April is the time for casual stargazers to focus their attention and telescopes on Jupiter without losing any beauty sleep. At the beginning of the month Jupiter will be about 15 degrees above the southeast horizon at around 9:00pm EDT. It will be the brightest astronomical object in this region of the sky, except when the Full Moon passes within three degrees on the evening of April 10.
This favorable prime time appearance of Jupiter is ideal, for on April 8, Jupiter will be at its closest distance to the Earth for this year—a mere 414 million miles. Jupiter will be visible all night. Even if you have a small “department store” refractor you will be able to observe four of Jupiter’s largest moons (Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto), first discovered by Galileo Galilei in 1610. They are now known as the Galilean satellites. When several of the Galilean moons are visible at the same time, they often appear in a straight line, parading around Jupiter in the plane of its equator. If your timing is right you may catch one of the many interesting phenomena that can occur, including moon shadows on Jupiter’s cloud tops, occultations (when a moon moves behind Jupiter’s disk), or eclipses (when a moon slides into Jupiter’s shadow). I love to watch Jupiter over an extended period of time during the course of one evening because the view is dynamically changing as you watch.
Also easily observed will be Jupiter’s more prominent dark bands/belts and lighter zones, clouds which give the planet a striped appearance. Larger instruments may also reveal the Great Red Spot, a centuries old storm in Jupiter’s cloud tops. A six-inch telescope or larger may be needed to catch a glimpse of it. Keep in mind that Jupiter rotates once in ten hours, making it possible to see the entire planet in one or two nights of observing. Use whatever optical aid you have at hand, but if you wish to marvel at the beauty of Jupiter and all it has to offer, then set aside some time to visit one of the local observatories for a splendid visual experience.
And finally, on the night of April 22-23, you should scan the skies for members of the April Lyrids meteor shower. The Lyrids are the oldest known shooting star display, having been observed by Chinese astronomers on March 16, 687 BCE. Being an old display, the number of meteors populating the stream of particles has greatly diminished. Less than six meteors per hour can be counted from dark sky locations.
These swift and bright meteors disintegrate after hitting our atmosphere at a moderate speed of 29.8 miles per second. They often produce luminous trains of dust that can be observed for several seconds. A waning crescent Moon will not interfere with the midnight to dawn peak of the Lyrids
The Lyrids appear to radiate outward from an area of sky on the Lyra-Hercules border near the bright star Vega, which will be about 45 degrees (halfway between the horizon and zenith) above the eastern horizon at midnight and well placed for observing. I let my eyes roam the heavens while facing this general direction. Remember, even though you can trace back the dust train left by a Lyrid meteor back to the radiant point, members of this shower can appear anywhere in the sky
Clear skies for all your observing adventures.
Keep your eyes to the skies!
Related Slideshow: 25 Things to Look Forward to This Spring in New England - 2018
One of the best parts of Spring and Summer is the return of Waterfire.
Providence WaterFire has grown to be an iconic Rhode Island event. Starting out in 1994 to celebrate it has grown to run continuously, once a month, from May-November and boasts over 80 blazing fires in the middle of the Providence River.
Playing Golf at Harbor Lights
Tee it up at Harbor Lights Country Club and dive right into golf season.
The Spring is a great time to get warmed up and get some swings in before the heart of the season hits in the summer.
Enjoy being back out on the course. Save the super serious golf for the summer.
Bicycling on the Central Mass Rail Trail
Once the streets are clear of ice and snow and the temperatures rise, one of the most fun things to do in New England is to jump on a bike and go for a nice long ride.
There are plenty of bike paths to explore at your leisure, and many cities like Providence, Boston, and Worcester are beginning to make city streets much more bike friendly.
The Volvo Ocean Race is a 45,000 nautical mile sailing race that takes its teams around the world, across four oceans, touching six continents and 12 Host Cities.
The Volvo Ocean Race Newport Stopover will be a chance for visitors to view the world’s top sailors and race boats during the 12-day event in Newport.
The Newport Stopover will take place from May 8 to the 20.
Walking the Newport Cliff Walk
The Cliff Walk is one of Newport’s most famous attractions is its gilded age mansions lining the coast. Entry to the mansions will cost a fee, but with the Cliff Walk, you can enjoy views of the mansions with amazing views of the water all for free.
The 3.5 mile long path runs behind the mansions on the eastern shore of Newport. It is a National Recreation Trail – the first in New England! The majority of the walk is easy, but be sure to wear good shoes; the sand can make the path slippery.
Outdoor Dining at Boat House Restaurant in Newport
Newport Restaurant Group made this a must-visit spot several years ago and now the expected accolades have followed.
The views of Mount Hope Bay are unparalleled.
Enjoy a nice glass of wine with some lobster fritters that had sweet corn and a chipotle mayo and followed that with pan-roasted George’s Bank scallops with a delightful spring pea risotto, pea greens from Allen Farm and a citrus emulsion.
Spring Vacation on Block Island
Get away from the hustle and bustle of the world and take a spring vacation to Block Island and enjoy all they have to offer.
Maybe a spa? a swim? Some shopping? there are plenty of options.
If Block Island doesn't do it for you, Newport is also a great place to take a break.
Or maybe do both.
Visiting Arcadia National Park in Maine
People have been drawn to the rugged coast of Maine throughout history. Awed by its beauty and diversity, early 20th-century visionaries donated the land that became Acadia National Park.
The park is home to many plants and animals, and the tallest mountain on the U.S. Atlantic coast.
Visit Acadia and hike granite peaks, bike historic carriage roads, or relax and enjoy the scenery.
The 7th annual Newport Craft Beer Festival is set for Friday, April 27 and Saturday, April 28 at Newport Storm Brewery.
The event will bring in brewers from as far away as California and as close as Newport.
It is a 21+ celebration.
Get your rods and reels ready because with the approach of warmer weather comes the return of fishing seasons. While some New England states allow for fishing year-round, many New England states have opening days for trout fishing that begin in early April.
Although there is still a plentiful amount of snow on the ground, fishing season is right around the corner.
photo credit: Grand River Conservation Authority/Flickr
Sailing at Charles River Yacht Club in Boston
One ritual of the spring that many New Englanders are looking forward to is getting the boat back in the water and the Charles River Yacht Club is a place to do it.
After the brutal winter, we've had, boaters are chomping at the bit to get back on the water and enjoy our awesome waterfronts and bays.
Lower Heating Bills
As winter will come to a close New Englanders could look forward to spending less money on heating bills.
Although the bitter cold is hitting New England hard, and also therefore hitting their wallets hard, this brutal cold streak will soon come to an end and we'll be able to turn down our thermostats save some cash.
photo credit: Images Money/Flickr
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