March ‘comes in like a lion’
For March 2017, the moon is new on Feb. 26, an annular solar eclipse for South Africa, and just six new moons until our own Great American Eclipse of Aug. 21. On Feb. 28, look for the crescent moon ten degrees south of brilliant Venus in the twilight. On Mar. 1, the waxing crescent moon passes four degrees south of red Mars. The moon is first quarter on Mar. 4, and passes through the Hyades cluster in the head of Taurus, occulting several of the stars that make up the “V” shape of the Bull’s face. The Full Moon of March, the “Grass” Moon, is on Mar. 12. The waning gibbous moon passes two degrees north of bright Jupiter on Mar. 15, with the bright star Spica in Virgo just south of Jupiter as well; all three rise about 10 p.m. in the southeast. The Vernal Equinox occurs at 5:29 a.m. CST on Mar. 20. On the same morning, look for the last quarter moon passing three degrees north of Saturn, both rising in the SE about 12:30 a.m. The new moon is on Mar. 27, but note that by now, retrograding Venus has already moved into the dawn sky. However, Mercury temporarily is taking her place in the evening sky, and is visible seven degrees to the lower right of the waxing crescent moon on Mar. 29, with Mars five degrees north of the Moon on the same evening.
For a detailed map of northern hemisphere skies, about Feb. 28, visit the website at www.skymaps.com and download the map for March 2017.
Mercury moves into the evening sky at the end of March. Venus starts the month well up in the SW and very bright. But as she retrogrades between earth and the sun this month, she draws closer and bigger, but a more slender crescent as seen from earth. On the 15th, she is up to 57 inches wide, but only 4 percent still sunlit, and setting right after the Sun, about 7 p.m. Try spotting her thin crescent with handheld binoculars during the last weeks of March in twilight. Then on Mar. 25, Venus is at inferior conjunction, passing just north of the sun into the dawn sky by month’s end.
Mars is slowing losing its race with the sun, but still visible in the SW evening sky throughout the month. Jupiter is nearing opposition on Apr. 7, and rising earlier in the evening sky each day in March. The bright star of Virgo, Spica, is much fainter and just south of the giant planet this month. Saturn is now in the dawn sky in Sagittarius, and rises about 1 a.m. by the end of March. The rings are now tilted most toward earth and the sun.
At Perseus’ feet is the famed Pleiades cluster; they lie about 400 light years distant, and over 250 stars are members of this fine group. East of the seven sisters is the V of stars marking the face of Taurus the Bull, with bright orange Aldebaran as his eye.
Just south of the belt, hanging like a sword downward, is M-42, the Great Nebula of Orion, an outstanding binocular and telescopic stellar nursery. The bright diamond of four stars that light it up are the trapezium cluster, one of the finest sights in a telescope and among the youngest known stars.
When Sirius is highest, along our southern horizon look for the second brightest star, Canopus, getting just above the horizon and sparkling like an exquisite diamond as the turbulent winter air twists and turns this shaft of starlight, after a trip of about 200 years!
To the northeast, look for the bowl of the Big Dipper rising, with the top two stars, the pointers, giving you a line to find Polaris, the Pole Star. Here it sits unmoving, 30 degrees high in our northern sky locally.
If you take the pointers of the Big Dipper’s bowl to the south, you are guided instead to the head of Leo the Lion rising in the east, looking much like the profile of the famed Sphinx. The bright star at the Lion’s heart is Regulus, the “regal star.” The folk wisdom that “March comes in like a Lion” probably refers to the head of Leo rising just after sunset in early March.
Download the March Evening Sky Map at skymaps.com for a list of the best objects to view with the naked eye, binoculars & scopes
BIG LAGOON GAZES
by the Escambia Amateur Astronomers
Big Lagoon State Park Deep Sky Observing Sessions Saturday March 4th V Saturday March 18th
We hope to have our Pensacola Beach Pavilion and Fort Pickens gaze schedule set up soon as well. Check out our website on Facebook for an update
For more information on the Escambia Amateur Astronomers visit www.eaaa.net or call Dr. Wayne Wooten in the Physical Sciences
Department of Pensacola State College at
(850) 484-1152, or e-mail him at email@example.com.
Join them on Facebook at Escambia Amateur Astronomers Association.