March 2013

March brings us Daylight Savings time, the astronomical first day of spring, some lunar close encounters with the planets, and, most spectacularly, the likely best comet in many years for those of us in the northern hemisphere!

EVENTS...

2nd - Close Encounter - Saturn & Moon - Get up after 1am and before sunrise on the 2nd, look Southeast to Southwest and you'll find Saturn about 4˚ up and the to left of the gibbous Moon.

Last Quarter Moon - 4th (Visible from midnight into the morning)

10th - Daylight Savings time starts - 2 a.m.

New Moon - 11th (darkest skies)

12th-18th - Comet PanSTARRS (C/2011 L4) at its best for mid-northern latitudes

Never seen a comet?  Well, here's your chance!  We haven't had any visible comets for the past couple of years, but this one should be visible to the naked eye.  In order to find it, here are the details.  The 12th to the 18th are the best days for those of us in North America, since that's when it will have the best combination of being high in the sky and bright.  Where do you look?  Basically west. Before sunset, find a place that has a very low view to west and nothing in the way between you and the sunset.  Bring some binoculars (or a telescope if you have one) and watch the sunset.

As twilight fades, look to the west, about one fist-width at arm's length above the horizon.  It might be easiest to find on March 12th, since the Moon will be about 4 degrees (four pinky fingers at arm's length) to the right of the comet.  You should be able to see the comet's head, or nucleus, first.  Then, as the sky gets darker or if you use bigger binoculars or telescopes, you may be able to see the tail.  If you have a digital camera that can take long exposures, perhaps you could get a picture of it!  The best zoom lens you have is a must.

After the 20th, it'll get harder to see, but it should also be higher in the darker skies, so it will still be visible.  For more information, updates, and star charts, check skypub.com/panstarrs

17th -Close Encounter - Moon & Jupiter - Jupiter will be only 2˚ up and to the left of the waxing crescent Moon. Just find the Moon, and you'll find Jupiter right there.  Also in the area are Taurus (the Hyades), Aldebaron, and the Pleiades.

First Quarter Moon - 19th (Visible until midnight)

20th - Spring Equinox - Astronomically the first day of Spring, even though meteorologically Spring starts in the beginning of March.  Here's some more info.

Full Moon - 27th (Visible all night - East around sunset, West around Sunrise)

28th - 29th - Close Encounter - Saturn & Moon - Get out after 10pm to find the just-past-full Moon.  Then look about a fist-width at arm's length away down and find the very bright object which is Saturn.  The Moon will be on one side of it on the 28th, and the other side on the 29th.

PLANETS...well, the ones visible with your naked eye

Planets you can see around Sunset -Jupiter (SE)

Planets you can see throughout the night - Jupiter (S to W)

Planets you can see in the Morning - Saturn (S)

Mercury - Either in the Sun's glare, or not worth looking for just yet.

Venus - In the Sun's glare.

Mars - In the Sun's glare.

JUPITER - VERY high in the South at sunset (almost straight above) and visible until midnight in the beginning of the month and 11 p.m. at the end. Close to the Moon on the 17th.  Use binoculars or a telescope to try to see the four Galilean Moons.  If you're looking at Taurus, Jupiter's the very bright one near the V of Taurus.

Saturn - Look ESE after 1 a.m. in the beginning of the month and after 11 p.m. toward the end of the month and find the very bright object which is Saturn.  Throughout the morning it will rise to about 35˚ above the horizon toward the South. Close to the Moon on the 2nd, 28th, and 29th.

CONSTELLATIONS... (see sky map link at the bottom for a Star Map for this month - or ask Mr. Webb)    Look straight up and you'll see...

After Sunset (sunset is around 5:30-6:30pm) - Auriga (Taurus is right nearby), Gemini

Between Sunset and Midnight - Cancer, Gemini, Lynx, and Leo later in the month - Extra Challenge! Find M44 in the Middle of Cancer - an open cluster of stars also known as the Beehive Cluster.  You may be able to see it as a small fuzzy patch with your naked eye if you have very dark skies.  However with a pair of binoculars or a telescope on low power, it will look like a hive of bees in the distance, hence its nickname.

Midnight - Leo, Leo Minor, Ursa Major's legs

Early Morning - Corona Borealis, Hercules, Boötes (you can also find the Big Dipper's handle, and starting from the inside of the handle, follow the arc that those four stars make past the last star in the handle about 30˚ or three fist-widths to the next very bright star you find which is Arcturus, the base of the constellation Boötes.  Hence astronomers use the phrase "Follow the Arc to Arcturus")

GENERAL CONSTELLATION FINDING TIPS:

Winter constellations: Orion is easy to spot as he is high in the south as the Sun sets.  You can use Orion to find many other winter constellations.

Using Orion: Find Orion by looking for the three stars in a row that make up Orion's belt in the South after 7pm.  If you draw a line from the left star to the right star and keep going right about 20 degrees (about 2 fists at arm's length) until you reach another very bright star, you will have reached the star Aldebaron in Taurus (the V).  Follow that line a little more (about another fist) and you'll find the Pleiades.

If you start at his belt again, but instead go the opposite way and draw a line from the right star in Orion's belt to the left star, and keep going left about 20 degrees (2 fists again), you'll come to the brightest star in the sky - Sirius - part of Canis Major.

Above these three constellations are Gemini and Auriga.  The brightest stars in each of these constellations form a circle in the sky.  Going clockwise - Aldebaron (Taurus) - Rigel (Orion - bottom right foot) - Sirius (Canis Major) - Procyon (Canis Minor) - Castor & Pollux (Gemini) - Capella (Auriga).  It makes for great stargazing in the winter sky.

Use a sky map from www.skymaps.com to help you out.



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