Some daily events in the changing sky for February 26 – March 6.
Friday, February 26
Saturday, February 27
Sunday, February 28
Monday, March 1
Tuesday, March 2
Wednesday, March 3
Thursday, March 4
Friday, March 5
Saturday, March 6
Want to become a better amateur astronomer? Learn your way around the constellations. They're the key to locating everything fainter and deeper to hunt with binoculars or a telescope. 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. Or download our free Getting Started in Astronomy booklet (which only has bimonthly maps).
Once you get a telescope, to put it to good use you'll need a detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of charts; the standards are Sky Atlas 2000.0 or the smaller Pocket Sky Atlas) and good deep-sky guidebooks (such as Sky Atlas 2000.0 Companion by Strong and Sinnott, the more detailed and descriptive Night Sky Observer's Guide by Kepple and Sanner, or the classic Burnham's Celestial Handbook). Read how to use them effectively.
Can a computerized telescope take their place? I don't think so — not for beginners, anyway (and especially not on mounts that are less than top-quality mechanically). 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 and a curious mind." Without these, "the sky never becomes a friendly place."
More beginners' tips: "How to Start Right in Astronomy".
This Week's Planet Roundup
Mercury is hidden behind the glare of the Sun.
Venus (magnitude –3.9) is slowly emerging into view very low in the sunset. Look for it just above the western horizon about 30 minutes after sundown. Binoculars help. Venus will gradually creep up into better twilight visibility for the next threre months.
Mars, still bright at magnitude –0.6, shines high in the east at dusk and highest in the south around 9 or 10 p.m. It's located in Cancer, below Pollux and Castor after dusk.
In a telescope Mars is shrinking: from 12.4 to 11.6 arcseconds wide this week. Its north polar cap remains the most visible marking. Identify other surface features you detect in your scope using the Mars map and observing guide in the December issue of Sky & Telescope, page 57.
Jupiter is out of sight in conjunction with the Sun.
Saturn (magnitude +0.6, in western Virgo) rises in the east around the end of twilight and stands highest in the south around 1 a.m. In a telescope, Saturn's rings are tilted only 4° from edge-on to us, as seen at right. They'll narrow further (to 1.7°) in the coming months.
Uranus and Neptune are behind the glare of the Sun.
Pluto is up in the southeast before dawn.
All descriptions that relate to your horizon or zenith — including the words up, down, right, and left — are written for the world's mid-northern latitudes. Descriptions that also depend on longitude (mainly Moon positions) are for North America. Eastern Standard Time (EST) equals Universal Time (also known as UT, UTC, or GMT) minus 5 hours.
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