Welcome to the "new" Stargazer featuring a bit of a change in the publication schedule and format. Rather than appearing every other week, the column will now appear twice monthly on the second and last week of the month. The second-week column will feature a narrative while the last-week column (like this one) will be data-driven, highlighting the events of the coming month. (This is the one you might want to clip and post on your refrigerator.) Your comments will be most welcome and helpful as we make any indicated tweaks to the new format.
March Night Sky Events. [Held at arm’s length, the width of your fist is 10º and the width of your index finger is 1º. The width of a full Moon is ½º.]
* Mar. 1 Tue. morning: The crescent Moon is 5º to the lower left of Venus low in the southeast.
* Mar. 4: The Moon is new.
* Mar. 6 Sun. early evening: The crescent Moon is 6º to the right of Jupiter low in the west after sunset.
* Mar. 12 Sat. evening: The Moon is at 1
* Mar. 16 Wed. early evening: Mercury is 2º to the right of much brighter Jupiter very low in the west at dusk.
* Mar. 19 Sat.: The full Moon, called Lenten Moon, Sap Moon, Crow Moon, and Worm Moon, occurs with the Moon at perigee (nearest Earth in its elliptical orbit) thus it will appear a bit larger than usual and will produce higher-than-average tides in coastal regions.
* Mar. 20 Sun.: Spring equinox, beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere when day and night are of (almost) equal length.
* 20 Sun. all night: The bright almost-full Moon forms a right triangle with the star Spica to the left and Saturn further above after they rise around 8 p.m. in the east southeast.
* Mar. 26 morning: The Moon is a 3
* Mar. 31 Thu. morning: The crescent Moon is 5º to the upper left of Venus near the eastern horizon.
March Naked-eye Planets. [The Sun, Moon and planets rise in the east and set in the west due to Earth’s west-to-east rotation on its axis.]
: Jupiter (low in the west until late in month); Mercury (low in the west by mid-month); Saturn (rises in mid-evening)
: Venus (east), Saturn (southwest)
* Mercury begins March in the Sun but by mid-month emerges low in the west in the evening twilight and is at its best Mar. 22.
* Venus is still the
* Mars is still hidden in the Sun’s glare and will be until summer.
* Jupiter, making its last evening appearance for the year low in the west at dusk, now sets by 8:30
p.m. and before month’s end will be lost in the Sun’s glare.
* Saturn, now up by 9 p.m., is high in the southwest by morning; by month’s end it rises at sunset and is up all night.
Time Change. Saturday, March 12, before retiring for the night, set your clocks forward ("spring forward") to Daylight Saving Time. Of course, we don’t really save any time, and in the spring we lose an hour – so if you forget about the change, you’ll be an hour late to Sunday morning activities.
March Astro Milestones.
* Mar. 13: The planet Uranus was discovered in 1781 by German-English astronomer William Herschel (1738-1822) from his home observatory in Bath, England.
* Mar. 14: Birthday of Albert Einstein (1879-1955), American physicist and cosmologist who put forth his theories of relativity in 1905 and 1915.
MESSENGER at Mercury. NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft, launched in 2004, is due to begin orbiting the planet Mercury March 18. The MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging (MESSENGER) orbiter is a 1,067 pound (485 kilogram) robotic space probe designed to study the chemical composition, geology, and the magnetic field of Mercury. During three earlier flybys, as MESSENGER was being positioned for planetary orbit, it returned some tantalizing new photos and data about the planet nearest the Sun. This is only the second mission to Mercury, the first being the Mariner 10 flyby in 1975, and the first to orbit the planet. [Attached: optional NASA photo of the MESSENGER space craft]
Paul Derrick is an amateur astronomer who lives in Waco. Stargazer appears twice monthly. Paul’s website (www.stargazerpaul.com) contains an archive of past Stargazer columns, a schedule of his upcoming programs, star parties and classes, and other basic stargazing information. Contact him at email@example.com or 254-723-6346, or 918 N. 30
th St., Waco, TX, 76707.