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:
Venus: Our sister planet is the only naked-eye planet visible in the night-time sky this month; however, it steals the show. Venus is as high in the night sky as it ever gets and it is at its brightest – you absolutely cannot miss it in the western sky. The brilliance of Venus increases from -4.3 to -4.5 as the month progress’s. Venus sets 4 hours after the Sun sets.
Dawn: Saturn, Jupiter and Mars are all visible as a group on the ecliptic in the SE 45 minutes before sunrise.
Moon: The Moon is full on March 9th
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 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.
A huge black hole sits in the center of Holm15A, the brightest galaxy in the cluster of hundreds of galaxies called Abell 85, 700 million light years away from us. How big is this black hole? It is big. Scientists can directly infer how big a black hole is based on the motion of the host galaxies stars. In this case its mass is 40 billion times the mass of the Sun – which is around 2.5 percent the mass of the entire Milky Way galaxy.
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 Fl
- com (The evening sky map for the month)
- nasa.gov (sign up for alerts for the International Space Station)