Photo of the Week. A brilliant "subsun," caused by
reflection of sunlight from ice crystals, seems to follow the
Astronomy news for the two weeks starting Friday, March 19,
The next Skylights will appear Friday, April 2.
begins our fortnight in the waxing crescent
phase a few days shy of first quarter,
which it passes on the morning of Tuesday, March 23, when it is
quite out of sight. It then works its way entirely through the waxing gibbous until it meets its full phase the night of Monday the 29th,
when it IS nicely visible and, for North Americans, climbing the
eastern sky. The Moon subsequently reverses itself to begin to
fade in the waning gibbous until we pick
it up again in the next Skylights on April 2. It passes perigee, where
it is closest to the Earth, the night of Saturday the 27th.
Our companion will present a fine sight the evening of Saturday the
20th, when it passes just to the left of the Pleiades star cluster in Taurus, the sight well worth a
look. The following evening, it will appear above and to the right
of the Hyades, the cluster that
makes the Bull's head. The evening of Wednesday the 24th finds it
to the southwest of Mars, the
planet passed as dawn begins to light the next morning's sky (the
Moon appearing to the southeast of the planet that night). Then
the night of Sunday the 28th, it's
Saturn's turn, with the Moon southwest of the planet, the two
more or less exchanging positions by the following evening.
Be sure now to watch for Venus in western evening twilight, as by the end of our
period it lingers until twilight is about over. You might even
spot fainter Mercury,
which is beginning to make an appearance below its brighter
neighbor. Then make way for dimming Mars, which crosses the meridian to the south around 9 PM
Daylight Time, the planet still northwest of the Beehive Cluster in Cancer and now setting about an hour
before dawn. Next it's time to admire Saturn, which comes into
opposition with the Sun on Sunday
the 21st, when it rises (still in western Virgo) at sunset, sets at sunrise, and crosses the
meridian to the south at local midnight.
It is, however, the Earth that makes the
top news. At 12:32 PM CDT (1:32 EDT, 11:32 MDT, 10:32 PDT), the
Sun crosses the Vernal Equinox in
Pisces to announce the beginning
of astronomical spring in the northern hemisphere. On that date,
when the Earth's axis stands vertically to the line to the Sun, the
Sun will rise due east, set due west, be up for 12 hours (or close
to it) and be down for about the same amount. The Earth's north pole
will also now have full sunlight, while the
south pole will be plunging into ever-deepening twilight.
Yet there is still time to admire the winter constellations as they slip west.
While Canis Major, with Sirius, is the more famed, look now
for Canis Minor to the south
between 8 and 9 PM with bright, nearby Procyon, the eighth brightest star
in the sky and, at a distance of just a dozen light years, one of