M A R C H S K Y W A T C H
by Maya del Mar
Catch the grand views of the magnificent winter constellations while the nights are still long enough. On March 20 the days and nights become equal, and from then on the darkness of star-time is overtaken by the brightness of sun-time. (But of course, as Dane Rudhyar says, the Sun is also a star.)
At any rate, we can still see the Grand Hexagon in the southwest sky, with very bright light-green Sirius shining like a diamond at its base, close to the horizon. At the top of the hexagon is yellow Capella, the Charioteer, with his pentagram of horses drawing his chariot. In between are the great constellations of Taurus, the Bull with his red eye, Aldebaran, Orion the Hunter, everybodys favorite with his conspicuous belt, and Gemini, the Twins, Castor and Pollux.
Saturn and Jupiter have both been spending the last few years traveling through this great convention of stars. Brilliant Jupiter is just now passing through, and emerging on the east side into the arms of Leo, the Lion. Yellow Saturn is still firmly ensconced in the heart of Taurus, heading eastward towards the Twins.
These two big gas giants, so conspicuous in the heavens, and so influential in the workings of society, are bright in the southeast sky from the moment of darkness. They dominate our night sky.
March is a great sky-viewing month.
Saturn appears at its best now. Its rings are tipped earthwards, and it is the highest in the sky it can possibly be in the northern hemisphere. Visibility of planets is much better when they are high, due to minimal atmospheric disturbance.
Visibility of Saturn is clear enough to view through binoculars. Jupiter and her moons can also be viewed through binoculars.
And even asteroid Vesta is bright enough this month to be seen through binoculars. Find the constellation Virgo, and look night after night until you can spot the star that moves. Thats Vesta. Its about as far east of Jupiter as Jupiter is east of Saturn. Vesta appears west and south of Virgos bright bluish star, Spica.
The secret with binoculars is that the binoculars must be perfectly steady. If you dont have a tripod, rest them on something stable. Just holding them, no matter how steadily, wont work. (Lying on one's back on the ground while holding them can help somewhatif weather permits!)
With the smallest telescope, this month you can see Castor as the double star that it is.
If you get up early, before dawn, you can see red-orange Mars low in the southeast sky. It will get lower and brighter as the days move on. Now it is still near its red rival, Antares, the Scorpio "royal star," who rises before Mars and paves the way.
For early morning risers, brilliant Venus above the eastern horizon is still a treat. As day lengthens, and Venus inches closer and closer to Sun, its time of visibility is reducing.
First Quarter Moon passes close to Saturn on the morning of March 11. On the evening of March 14, Moon passes close to Jupiter.
On the morning of March 25, Moon passes close to Mars, and on the morning of March 29, it passes close to Venus.
Rich sky viewing is still ours this month, as the spring sky spreads her jewels in front of us in all their glory.