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We may be isolating, but we can experience a lot by looking up in our backyard

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The purpose of “In Our Back Yard” monthly articles is to suggest often little known and interesting places to visit.

But our ability to travel and congregate with crowds of people suddenly changed since the March issue of Serve Daily. We must accept public health restrictions like we have never seen before.

We are told we must stay home and not head off to interesting destination. The question of course was what do we write about in this column for the month of April.

After pondering this question for a few days, an inspiring realization occurred; the answer is in the title of the column, “In Our Back Yard.”

That is as far as we can go these days and follow current public health requirements.

We can go out the back door of our house and look at the amazing night sky and what an amazing family experience it can be.

A clear night offers a fascinating display of stars, constellations, bright planets, plus April offers the largest full moon of 2020 and a meteor shower.

Most features of the night sky can be observed with the naked eye, although binoculars or a good beginner’s telescope will of course bring otherwise invisible objects into sight.

A sky map available online is also useful and available free from in-the-sky.org.

With this sky map you can specify your location including small towns in Utah. Rural areas have less city light pollution and provide for enhanced sky viewing.   

April 2020 has some interesting events in our night sky. Early in the month the planet Venus will appear in the southwest sky just below the Pleiades or 7 Sisters Star Cluster and should be visible to the unaided eye and through binoculars. On April 8, weather permitting, we will see the largest full moon of the year with the moon at its closest point in its orbit around the earth. At that time the moon will be 221,772 miles from earth.

This will be a great time for people to photograph the moon.

The Lyrid Meteor Shower occurs annually between April 16 and 26, with the most impressive display on the nights of April 21 and 22 with the best viewing in the east and northeast sky between 3 and 5 a.m. Reportedly 20 meteors per hour can be seen.  

First of all, phone cameras will not capture good images of the moon because their auto focus is not designed for the distance of the moon and the auto exposure will create an over exposed image. It is best to use a camera that can manually manipulate the settings.

For example, you want to turn off auto exposure and manually focus. A shorter shutter speed/exposure time is suggested, such as 1/125 of a second.

Using a slower shutter speed, you should also use a remote shutter release or timer to avoid camera shake while depressing the shutter button. Your camera’s ISO should be set at 100 and auto. Aperture should be set at f/11. Take a series of photos with changes to the exposure time and aperture settings.

If you are shooting the moon to capture its details use the longest telephoto lens you have. A long lens will require a tripod for a steady, blur free shoot. This is a great way to learn more about your camera and have fun doing it.

Pretty amazing what we can see and learn right home in our back yard while protecting ourselves and others from risk of exposure to the coronavirus pandemic. (Helmick is a Serve Daily contributor.)

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