Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, March 8, 2013.
It's a short week, as the next Skylights will appear a bit early.
That's ok, as it's another quiet week anyway except for the
beginning of Daylight
Savings Time on Sunday, March 10. All times below are thus
DST. Aside from that, we have the perpetual Moon, which starts off in the thin waning crescent phase as it heads towards new
Moon on Monday, March 11. If you have a good eastern horizon, your
last look will be on the morning of Sunday the 10th. But then as
always, the Moon pops up again in the western evening sky as a waxing crescent, the first view to be had
the night of Tuesday the 12th. The visibility will much better by
the evening of Wednesday the 13th. There are no significant
planetary passages unless you want to count an invisible
conjunction between the waning crescent and Neptune a day
before the formal new phase.
We DO, however, still have both Jupiter and Saturn to admire, and will for some time yet.
None of the other ancient planets (those known since ancient times)
are readily visible. The giant of the Solar System
dominates the evening, especially with the Moon largely out of
sight. Now well into western skies as twilight draws to a
close, Jupiter does not set until about 1:30 AM Daylight Time, by
which time Saturn (rising around 11 PM Daylight) is nicely up in
the southeast well to the east of Spica in Virgo. In the morning hours look to see Saturn cross
the meridian about 4:30 AM.
In early evening, as the two Dogs (Canis Major with brilliant Sirius and Canis Minor, marked by Procyon) chase Orion off to the west, look to the
northeast to find the Great Bear's
Big Dipper, a sure sign of
nearby spring. Follow the front bowl stars leftward to Polaris, which will be a third to
halfway up the sky depending on where you live (northerners seeing
it higher). The much fainter Little Dipper (whose handle curves in
the opposite direction from that of its bigger counterpart) will
then extend out to the right from Polaris. The figure formally
makes up the Little Bear, Ursa Minor. Polaris is about 3/4 of a degree off the true North Celestial Pole. By the common
coincidences of cosmic cycles, the morning meridian transit of
Saturn currently about coincides with the lower transit of Polaris
across the meridian (beneath the pole). The star will then direct
you to almost exact north (and of course to all the other compass
directions as well).