Highlights of the March Night Sky

Brought to you by:  Bob Haskins @ Waterville Estates

Do your part and help preserve the dark skies that we are fortunate to have 

in Waterville Estates. Turn off all unnecessary outdoor lighting

Go outside tonight and discover the night sky 

The Planets: Evenings on the “Ecliptic” The Sun and the planets all follow an imaginary path in the sky called the ecliptic.

Dusk and into the night:

The glory days are over, at least until next month, for the bright planets to shine in the night-time sky. Jupiter and Saturn have moved to dawn and Venus is awaiting her return for the middle of April.

Mars: is the only planet visible at dusk this month. Look for the Red Planet between the eye of the bull, the star “Aldebaran”, and the star grouping Pleiades. Look for it high in the SW sky. You might consider using binoculars to get a great view of the Pleiades.

Dawn: 

Jupiter and Saturn can be seen in the ESE at dawn 30 minutes before the Sun rises. Venus is lost this month in the glare of the Sun. 

 Moon: 

New on the 13th

Full on the 28th

Spring begins on March 20th @ 5:37am – Hooray!!

Stars and Constellations 

The bright constellations of winter are burning brightly in the west this month. Orion “The Hunter” still dominates our winter sky. It is the easiest constellation to find. The “Belt” is the straight line of three stars in the middle of the constellation and is as wide as your three fingers at arms length. Each star in the belt lies at a different distance from us; from left to right (800 light years, 1340ly and 915ly).  Look through your binoculars to really appreciate the beauty of the belt formation. Also look to the left for Orion’s faithful companion the constellation “Canis Major” (Big Dog). However, rising in the east after dark is Arcturus, the bright star of summer. The seasons are always changing.

Spring arrives on March 20th for us in the northern hemisphere. The vernal equinox  marks the day that our planet starts to lean into the Sun and for us in the north each day thereafter we feel more of the Sun’s rays warming our planet. On March 20th the Sun will set exactly in the west and it will be directly overhead at noon at the equator. However, before we leave the winter behind see if you can locate the Gemini twins in the night sky this month. Look below and to the left of Orion for the bright star Sirius in the “big dog” and than look up and you should spot two bright stars a thumbs width apart at arms length. These are the heads of the twins, Castor and Pollux. If you are in the Estates you should be able to trace out their stick figure body outlines (refer to diagram). Between the Gemini twins and Sirius you should spot the lone bright star Procyon. This is part of the constellation Canis Minor or little dog. 

Astronomy News: 

 What would happen if a coronal mass ejection (CME) hit the Earth?

CME leave the Sun all the time. However, the vast majority do not travel in our direction. CME consist of electronically charged particles and if we had a perfect CME it would  cause havoc to our planet. We would witness loss of power, loss GPS reception and satellites being lost. We have had three such events in the past 150 years – all before the electronic age. A major CME aimed  directly at the Earth is rare but one day it will happen.

Comment / Factoid of the Month

If the Sun was a grain of sand. And the Earth a microscopic speck one inch away, then Jupiter would lie 5.2 inches away and Pluto 40 inches away. Next stop out nearest star, about 4.3 miles away, with mostly empty space between it and the Sun. The star Vega would be 26 miles away, Orion 1,340 miles away. Even on this massively compressed scale, the diameter of the Milky Way Galaxy, our home, would be 100,000 miles across. 

Astronomy Websites to Explore

  • heavens-above.com (satellites that are passing overhead)
  • skymaps.com (The evening sky map for the month)
  • spotthestation.nasa.gov (sign up for alerts for the International Space Station)