Here’s what you can see in the sky this month:
After sunset bright Jupiter leads Leo, the Lion, higher in the east all month. Looking through telescopes, see the storm bands on the planet and the four closest satellite moons: Io, Europa, Callisto and Ganymede. Sometimes a Galilean sunlit moon casts a dark shadow “dot” onto Jupiter’s stormy surface. More than 50 satellite moons are caught in the fringes of Jupiter’s tremendous gravitational grip. A stray comet or meteor cruising too close will meet its doom by smashing into Jupiter’s gaseous whirlpools.
The dim Beehive star cluster shimmers in Cancer, the Crab, above Jupiter. The Big Dipper rises in the northeast. Its bowl always face Polaris, the North Star. Capella guides the Charioteer toward the northwest. The Gemini Twins, Castor and Pollux,drift overhead. The delicate Seven Sisters, the Pleiades cluster of 500 stars, lead Taurus, the Bull, west of Zenith. Ruddy Aldebaran, a red giant, is the Bull’s red eye. It winks from the V-shaped Hyades star cluster in the Bull’s face.
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Comet Lovejoy fades in the northwest. By nightfall on Wednesday, aim telescopes and binoculars to the west where Venus, the Evening Star, dances 0.3 degree from blue-green Uranus. Dim Mars descends about 5 degrees below the planets. Gigantic Orion, Hunter strides across the south in pursuit of the Bull. Procyon, Little Dog, follows Orion. The Great Orion Nebula glows from Orion's sword. The nebula is a gas cloud 173 trillion miles in diameter that forms new stars from the ingredients in the cloud. The nebula is also called a “stellar nursery.”
In the southeast, brilliant Sirius, a nearby star 8.6 light years from Earth, is the blue eye in Orion’s Big Dog trotting on its hind legs. The string of Pups trail behind the Big Dog. Low in the south brilliant Canopus radiates rainbow colors from the ancient ship Argo in the southern hemisphere. About 10:30 p.m., bright Arcturus, the Herdsman, a red giant star, sparkles in the east beyond the end of the Big Dipper’s handle. Spica is rising in the southeast in Virgo, SpringMaiden. Corvus, the Crow, flies across the south.
The Lenten Moon is full at 1:05 p.m. on Thursday and rises at dusk in the east behind Leo. It will be the smallest full moon of the year. The full moons set in the west at dawn. By nightfall March 6-8, Uranus lies between Venus (above) and Mars (below) in the west. Great views in binoculars! On March 11, Uranus and Mars dance 0.4 degrees apart in the west. Spring arrives on March 20 in the northern hemisphere. The Vernal Equinox occurs at 6:45 p.m. when the northbound sun crosses the Equator. Daylight and night are about equal for a week — Equi-Nox. The sun rises due east and sets due west creating problems for drivers on east-west roads.
At dusk on March 21, aim optical equipment to the young crescent moon 1 degree from dim Mars low in the west. Super views in binoculars and telescopes! The dark area of the moon is Earthshine — light from the Earth reflecting off the lunar surface. At dusk on March 22, aim optical equipment to brilliant Venus and a crescent moon 3 degrees apart. On March 24, the crescent moon floats against the Hyades cluster in Taurus. The Seven Sisters shimmer to the right of the moon. On March 29, the bright moon forms a triangle with the Beehive cluster and Jupiter. At month’s end, the moon leads the Lion overhead.
By 6:30 a.m. the first week in March, Mercury appears low in the southeast in Capricornus, the Sea Goat. Silver Saturn leads huge Scorpius across the south. Bright Antares, a red supergiant, is the heart beating in the Scorpion’s torso.
The Sagittarian Teapot glistens in the southeast. The Teapot marks the center of our Milky Way Galaxy. The starry Teaspoon lies to the upper left of the Teapot. Binoculars will reveal dozens of deep sky nebulas and star clusters shimmering from the dense center of our galaxy.
On March 12, the waning moon floats 2 degrees above Saturn. On March 13, the Last Quarter Moon occurs at 1:48 p.m. and rises in the southeast after midnight.
Spica follows Corvus, the Crow, across the southwest. Jupiter leads the Lion onto the western horizon. The Big Dipper swings into the northwest. The tip of the Little Dipper’s handle is Polaris. Arcturus sparkles overhead.
Vega brings the vast Summer Triangle higher in the northeast. The Summer Milky Way arches from the Teapot to the Summer Triangle. New Moon occurs 5:36 a.m. on the 20th. At the end of the month, the gibbous moon drifts from Jupiter to the Lion’s hind leg.
Compiled by Barb Yager, Southern Cross Astronomical Society, 305-661-1375, scas.org
Star Party and Garden Tour
Where: Villa Vizcaya, 3251 S. Miami Avenue
When: Dusk to 9 p.m. Wednesday
Tickets: $15. members; $20. non-members
Space Missions: Juno and New Horizons
Where: FIU Modesto Maidique Campus, Physics Bldg. CP-145
When: 8 p.m. March 20
With: NASA Mission Scientist Dr. Scott Bolton
Details: 305-661-1375 or scas.org