FRIDAY, MARCH 11

■ The waxing gibbous Moon this evening shines high in Gemini. When you face south after dark, Pollux and fainter Castor shine to the Moon's left by about a fist at arm's length, as shown below.

At roughly right angles to that direction, the Moon shines almost exactly midway between Capella and Procyon (during evening in North America): about 2½ fists from each.

The Moon passing under the heads of Gemini, March 11-13, 2022.
The waxing gibbous Moon passes under the heads of Gemini. (The "8 p.m." is standard time; on Sunday the 13th that means 9 p.m. daylight time.)

SATURDAY, MARCH 12

■ Pollux and Castor accompany the Moon across the sky tonight, as shown above. Pollux is the one closest to it.

Down below this group is Procyon. Lower right of Procyon shines brighter Sirius.

■ Daylight-saving time begins at 2 a.m. tonight for most of North America. Clocks spring forward an hour.

SUNDAY, MARCH 13

■ Sirius blazes high in the south on the meridian in late twilight this week. The seeing often steadies in twilight, so this may be a good time to try for Sirius B, the Dog Star's notoriously difficult white-dwarf companion.

Sirius A and B are at their farthest apart in their 50-year orbit, separated by 11.3 arcseconds (they're exactly farthest apart next year if you're picky). They'll remain very nearly as wide for the next few years before they start closing again.

You'll want at least an 8- or 10-inch scope and a night of really excellent seeing. Keep checking night after night; top-notch steady seeing makes all the difference for spotting Sirius B. See the additional tips in Bob King's article Sirius B – A New Pup in My Life.

The Pup is east-northeast of the Dog Star and 10 magnitudes fainter: one ten-thousandth as bright. As Bob recommends, put a homemade occulting bar across your eyepiece's field stop: a tiny strip of aluminum foil held to the field stop with a bit of tape, with one edge of the foil crossing the center of the field. Hide blinding Sirius A just behind the strip's eastern edge.

A different Sirius challenge: Find it in the daytime! Venus is sometimes not hard to see with the naked eye in a clean blue sky, if you land on the precise spot to examine, and it's much easier with binoculars or a telescope. Jupiter is tougher. . . but what about the brightest star? At this time of year Sirius is nearing the meridian in late afternoon before sunset. The article in the March Sky & Telescope, page 48, will enable you to give it your very best shot.

MONDAY, MARCH 14

■ Spring doesn't arrive until next week. But the Spring Star Arcturus rises above the east-northeast horizon around the end of twilight now, depending on your latitude.

To see where to watch for it to come up, find the Big Dipper as soon as enough stars come out. It's high in the northeast. Follow the curve of its handle down and around to the lower right by a little more than a Dipper-length. That's the spot on the horizon to watch. The farther north you are, earlier Arcturus rises.

By 9 or 10 p.m. Arcturus is high up and dominates the eastern sky.

■ More about Sirius and its constellation Canis Major. In a very dark sky the Big Dog's realistic stick figure is plain to see — he's seen in profile prancing to the right on his hind legs, with Sirius on his chest as his shiny dog tag. But for most of us, only his five brightest stars show well through the light pollution. These form the unmistakable Meat Cleaver.

Sirius and Murzim (to its right) are the wide top end of the Cleaver, with Sirius sparkling on its top back corner. Down to Sirius's lower left is the Cleaver's other end including its short handle, formed by the triangle of Adhara, Wezen, and Aludra. The Cleaver is chopping toward the lower right.

TUESDAY, MARCH 15

Sirius in Canis Major offers observing challenges day and night. The Big Dipper balances Cassiopeia. And the gibbous Moon occults a Leo star.
The nearly full Moon occults Eta Leonis on the evening of March 15th, but only for some locations. The scene here may not quite be yours. Also, in these scenes the Moon is shown three times its actual apparent size.

■ The bright waxing gibbous Moon shines in the Sickle of Leo as darkness falls. The Moon is roughly between Regulus lower right of it and Algieba, slightly fainter, left of it (for North America).

Use binoculars to spot Eta Leonis, magnitude 3.5, very close by the Moon. . . maybe! The Moon occults Eta Leonis for eastern North America. Use a telescope to watch as the Moon's narrow dark limb approaches the star and then snaps it out. The time for this depends on where you are; for New York, for instance, the occultation happens at 7:51 p.m. EDT.

Map and timetables. Note that the timetable has two long halves: first for the star's disappearance, then (scroll down) for its reappearance from behind the Moon's bright limb up to an hour or more later.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 16

■ Pollux and Castor in Gemini pass nearly overhead around 8 p.m. this week if you live in the world's mid-northern latitudes. They go smack overhead as seen from near latitude 30° north: Austin, Houston, and the US Gulf Coast, as well as northernmost Africa, Tibet, and Shanghai.

The "twin" heads of the Gemini figures are fraternal twins at best. Pollux is visibly brighter than Castor and pale orange. And as for their physical nature, they're not even the same species.

Pollux is a single orange giant. Castor is a binary pair of two much smaller, hotter, white main-sequence stars, a fine double in amateur telescopes. If Pollux were a basketball, Castor A and B would be a tennis ball and a baseball about a half mile apart.

Moreover, each Castor star is closely orbited by an unseen red dwarf — a marble in our scale model just a foot or so from each of the two bright primaries.

And a very distant tight pair of red dwarfs, Castor C, is visible in amateur scopes as a single, 10th-magnitude speck 70 arcseconds south-southeast of the main pair. In our scale model, they would be a pair of marbles about 3 inches apart at least 10 miles from Castor A and B. Space is big.

■ At nightfall, the Big Dipper is now as high in the northeast as Cassiopeia is in the northwest. The Dipper dominates on spring and summer evenings, and indeed the season is about to change: the spring equinox comes on March 20th.

Unaffected midway between the Dipper and Cas is, as always, Polaris.

THURSDAY, MARCH 17

■ Full Moon (exactly so at 2:18 a.m. Friday morning Eastern Standard Time; 11:18 p.m. Thursday PST). Once the stars come out look for Leo, the stick-figure lion, stepping upward above the Moon. Leo's tail-tip, 2nd-magnitude Denebola, is nearly a fist at arm's length to the Moon's upper left this evening (for North America).

FRIDAY, MARCH 18

■ The Moon is barely past full. Once it's well up late this evening, it forms a nearly right triangle with Arcturus about three fists to its left and Spica half that distance below it (for North America).

In the dawn, Venus, Mars, and Saturn still form their triangle. But the triangle is shortening as Saturn approaches Venus.

SATURDAY, MARCH 19

■ The bright waning gibbous Moon rises around twilight's end. Once it's well up. look for Spica about 4° to its lower right (for North America), glimmering through the moonlight.

Brighter Arcturus shines about three fists to their upper left.

 

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This Week's Planet Roundup

Mercury, Jupiter, and Neptune are out of sight in the glare of the Sun.

Venus, magnitude –4.6, is the bright "Morning Star" shining low in the southeast during dawn.

Mars, vastly fainter at magnitude +1.2, continues to hang 4° lower right of Venus all week. Look for it early before dawn gets too bright; Mars currently shines with a little less than 1% of Venus's light.

Challenge question! Why is Mars so much dimmer than Venus now? Four reasons combine to make it so, despite two other factors working in the opposite direction. Points for each of the six that you get! Answers at the bottom of this page.

Saturn, magnitude +0.8, is emerging into dawn view lower left of Venus as shown above. Bring binoculars. Their separation closes from 15° on the morning of March 12th to 9° on the 19th.

Saturn will pass 2° under Venus at their conjunction on the mornings of March 28th and 29th, with Mars still nearby.

Uranus (magnitude 5.8, in Aries) is in the west right after dark, less high now.


All descriptions that relate to your horizon — including the words up, down, right, and left — are written for the world's mid-northern latitudes. Descriptions and graphics that also depend on longitude (mainly Moon positions) are for North America.

Eastern Standard Time, EST, is Universal Time minus 5 hours. Eastern Daylight Time, EDT, is UT minus 4 hours.


Want to become a better astronomer? Learn your way around the constellations. They're the key to locating everything fainter and deeper to hunt with binoculars or a telescope.

This is an outdoor nature hobby. For an easy-to-use constellation guide covering the whole evening sky, use the big monthly map in the center of each issue of Sky & Telescope, the essential magazine of astronomy.

Once you get a telescope, to put it to good use you'll need a detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of charts). The basic standard is the Pocket Sky Atlas (in either the original or Jumbo Edition), which shows stars to magnitude 7.6.

Pocket Sky Atlas cover, Jumbo edition
The Pocket Sky Atlas plots 30,796 stars to magnitude 7.6, and hundreds of telescopic galaxies, star clusters, and nebulae among them. Shown here is the Jumbo Edition, which is in hard covers and enlarged for easier reading outdoors by red flashlight. Sample charts. More about the current editions.

Next up is the larger and deeper Sky Atlas 2000.0, plotting stars to magnitude 8.5; nearly three times as many. The next up, once you know your way around, are the even larger Interstellarum atlas (stars to magnitude 9.5) or Uranometria 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 9.75). And be sure to read How to Use a Star Chart with a Telescope. (It applies just as much to charts on your phone or tablet as to charts on paper.)

You'll also want a good deep-sky guidebook. A beloved old classic is the three-volume Burnham's Celestial Handbook. An impressive more modern one is the big Night Sky Observer's Guide set (2+ volumes) by Kepple and Sanner.

Can a computerized telescope replace charts? Not for beginners, I don't think, and not on mounts and tripods that are less than top-quality mechanically, meaning heavy and expensive. And as Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer say in their Backyard Astronomer's Guide, "A full appreciation of the universe cannot come without developing the skills to find things in the sky and understanding how the sky works. This knowledge comes only by spending time under the stars with star maps in hand."


Audio sky tour. Out under the evening sky with your
earbuds in place, listen to Kelly Beatty's monthly
podcast tour of the heavens above. It's free.



"The dangers of not thinking clearly are much greater now than ever before. It's not that there's something new in our way of thinking, it's that credulous and confused thinking can be much more lethal in ways it was never before."
            — Carl Sagan, 1996

"Facts are stubborn things."
            — John Adams, 1770


* Answers to why Mars appears so much fainter than Venus. It's a combination of six factors:

Mars is a smaller planet. It's only a little more than half the physical diameter of Venus, which means it has not much more than 1/4 the surface area to reflect sunlight with.

Mars is much less reflective (has a lower albedo). The dusty brown Martian surface reflects only 15% of the sunlight that falls on it, while Venus's white cloudtops reflect 65% of incident sunlight.

Mars is currently twice as far from the Sun as Venus is. So the sunlight that strikes its it only one fourth as intense as sunlight at Venus.

– And, Mars is currently 3 times farther from Earth than Venus is. Three times farther means 9 times fainter.

On the other hand, Venus suffers at present from two effects of its phase:

– First, its globe currently appears less than half illuminated (43% sunlit) as seen from Earth, while Mars is 93% sunlit: gibbous close to full.

– Second, the side of Venus we see is therefore more or less grazingly sunlit, while the nearly full face of Mars is hit by light coming almost face-on.

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Comments


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Rod

March 11, 2022 at 8:27 pm

Very nice on the Mars fainter than Venus factor list 🙂 I checked my stargazing log. I viewed Venus and Mars 3x from 27-Jan-2022 thru 04-Mar-2022. I used binoculars and my telescope and at higher power views, Mars distinct planetary disk shape is visible (but no surface detail) and Venus half-moon shape, Venus so much brighter. Days are getting warmer now and next month, some weed whacking will start. I hear rumors that sometimes Mars can look as big as a Full Moon in the sky 🙂

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mary beth

March 16, 2022 at 11:35 am

Ha ha! I bet some people still will fall for that hoax! I believe that started in 2003?

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Rod

March 13, 2022 at 7:36 am

I enjoyed some more Venus and Mars observing this morning. This was a good observational test of the six factors listed as to why Mars is so much fainter than Venus 🙂 [Observed 0600-0700 EDT/1000-1100 UT. Sunrise 0721 EDT/1121 UT. Venus rise 0505 EDT, Mars rise 0519 EDT in Capricornus (Starry Night and Stellarium times). I used 90-mm refractor telescope with TeleVue 14-mm Delos eyepiece and TeleVue 1.8x Barlow lens for 129x views. Angular resolution ~ 2.3 arcsecond, true FOV ~ 33.6 arcminute. Venus 45.7% illuminated with 26.75 arcsecond size. Very bright and nearly half-moon shape. I probably should use planetary filters while viewing Venus. Mars 93.1% illuminated with 4.88 arcsecond angular size. Very lovely morning view of these two planets in Capricornus. Mars distinct planetary shape visible but no surface detail. Distinct orange-red color. Venus and Mars separated by just less than 4-degrees this morning in their sky positions. There was a tree line in SE that caused some viewing issues earlier but as Venus and Mars ascended, better viewing elevation angle. A cold front passed through yesterday bringing some rain and then snow. Pastures and fields muddy with ice in many areas along with snow in places, I did not go out into the fields. Temperature -7C with winds NW 8 knots. Yesterday I fired up the wood burning stove so when I came back inside, wood burning stove running and hot coffee waiting ]

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Rod

March 15, 2022 at 9:53 pm

I was able to enjoy the lunar occultation of Eta Leonis in Leo tonight. I observed 1840-2110 EDT/2240-0110 UT. Full Moon 18-March-2022 0718 UT. Sunset 1914 EDT. An enjoyable lunar occultation to view. I setup my 90-mm refractor telescope and started observing 1840 EDT and by 1919 EDT, I could see Eta Leonis star close to the lunar limb. Eta Leonis disappeared 1946 EDT/2346 UT near Grimaldi crater lunar limb and reappeared at 2103 EDT in my telescope view at 71x along the lunar limb near Mare Crisium and Mare Undarum. I used my cell phone time to check. Lunar limb positions verified using Virtual Moon Atlas. I used TeleVue 14-mm Delos eyepiece and near 2000 EDT, I started using Orion Moon filter because of the waxing gibbous Moon brightness in the FOV. Telescope resolved ~ 4.2 arcsecond at 71x with true FOV a bit more than 60 arcminute. The Virtual Moon Atlas reports the Moon’s angular size 30.89 arcminute and 386801 km distance at 2000 EDT. Stellarium shows Eta Leonis 1269 LY distance. Something to ponder, the great distance between my telescope and the Moon, and even greater distance to Eta Leonis star. Mostly clear skies this evening with some cirrus and temperature 14C with south winds 5 knots. An easy viewing night.

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mary beth

March 16, 2022 at 11:34 am

Great report Rod, glad to see your weather is cooperating! Nice you are concentrating on Leo; very fitting for the first few weeks of March! Here, Arcturus is sparkling so beautiful the first week of March (saw it on the few clear nights we had). With the time change, it is coming up later of course, so I have not seen it this week. But my first viewing was spectacular, as if it was saying ‘look at me, look at me!!’ I felt like it was the most dynamic scintillation that I have ever seen!

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Rod

March 16, 2022 at 12:45 pm

Thanks mary beth. This was my first lunar occultation where I could observe start to finish. Others in the past encountered clouds and I could see only some of the event like at the start or tail end. I did some morning research using the NASA ADS Abstract service on lunar occultations. They are used to show new binary star systems and measure stellar diameters including recording the angular separation of known binary stars. Some reports from 2018 show angular resolution down to 6 mas on the scale and my telescope observations last night where in the range of 4200 mas. At best my telescopes could run around 1000 mas or 1 arcsecond resolution. Apparently the pros use better tools than I do and more expensive. At one time I thought I could compete with HST images of Jupiter but since given up on that However, I do get some great views though

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mary beth

March 17, 2022 at 7:34 pm

Sounds like you have better equipment and a better understanding of all than most people. A lot of my neighbors work for NASA (mission control, astronaut training, T38 pilot, etc..) they do not have anywhere near the knowledge you have. By the way do you ever watch the HST fly over? i’ve seen it a few times and really enjoyed knowing what it was.

Also I see that you have some TeleVue eye pieces aren’t those the best?

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Rod

March 17, 2022 at 9:46 pm

mary beth, no on observing the HST but yes for the ISS. TeleVue are feel are excellent eyepieces, I have some more than 30 years old and still in great shape. I recently contacted TeleVue and asked about purchasing some equipment. They advised only dealers and not customers like me. I spoke about my dealer in MD. The TeleVue tech was very familiar with the guy 🙂 We both laughed because we both knew the person at the store in MD and I have a great time when I visit the store. Small world after all 🙂

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Rod

March 16, 2022 at 12:51 pm

https://skyandtelescope.org/observing/amateur-team-measures-distance-near-earth-asteroid/

this report demonstrates amateur team measuring parallax and determining distance to an asteroid. Like lunar occultations of various bright stars, some practical astronomy work can be done without pondering too deeply the verities of the cosmos and cosmology 🙂

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