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 be a stargazer
The Planets: Evenings on the “Ecliptic” The Sun and the planets all follow an imaginary path in the sky called the ecliptic.
Venus and Mercury: Both planets finally return to the early evening sky this month. Mercury, named after the god of commerce and thieves, steals the show. Throughout most of the month Venus, which has been absence from the evening sky for a long time, will be with us for the next 8 months. Look for Venus and Mercury which are separated by only 1° or your finger held out at arms length. Look to the west and low on the horizon at dusk. Don’t let this opportunity past you by to spot Mercury. There are many amateur astronomers who have never spotted the mighty mite of planets.
Jupiter: Rises just before midnight and is visible in the east.
Mars and Saturn: Visible in the SSE at dawn if you are an early riser.
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. This 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 21nd 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.
The idea of a “multiverse” proposes that an infinite amount of universes, including the one we are living in, exist in parallel to each other. The “multiverse” hypothesis has been so far impossible to test but has supporters among such scientists as Stephen Hawking and Neil deGrasse Tyson. A recent study by British astronomers focuses on what is known as the “Cold Spot” – an especially cold area of space that has been observed in the microvave background radiation coming from the early Universe 13 billion years ago. The study concludes that this could be evidence of a parallel universe interacting with are own.
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 and also Iridium Flares)
- com (The evening sky map for the month)
- nasa.gov (sign up for alerts for the International Space Station)