Some daily events in the changing sky for March 5 – 13.
Friday, March 5
Saturday, March 6
Sunday, March 7
Monday, March 8
Tuesday, March 9
When to look? Canopus is always at its highest point when Beta Canis Majoris (Mirzim, the bright star to the right of Sirius) is at its highest point crossing the meridian due south. Look straight down from it.
Wednesday, March 10
Thursday, March 11
Friday, March 12
And, you know that if you follow the curve of the Dipper's handle out and around by a little more than a Dipper length, you'll arc to Arcturus (now rising in the east).
But did you know that if you follow the Pointers backward the opposite way, you'll land in Leo?
Draw a line diagonally across the Dipper's bowl from where the handle is attached, continue on, and you'll go to Gemini.
And look at the two stars forming the open top of the Dipper's bowl. Follow this line past the bowl's lip far across the sky, and you crash into Capella.
Saturday, March 13
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."
This Week's Planet Roundup
Mercury is hidden behind the glare of the Sun.
Venus (magnitude –3.9) is slowly emerging from the sunset. Look for it due west just above the horizon about 30 minutes after sundown. Binoculars may help. Venus will gradually creep up into better twilight visibility for the next three months.
Mars, now faded to magnitude –0.4, shines very high in the east at dusk and toward south by around 9 p.m. It's in Cancer, below Pollux and Castor after dusk and left of them later in the evening.
In a telescope Mars is gibbous and shrinking: from 11.6 to 10.8 arcseconds in diameter this week. Its bright north polar cap remains the most visible marking. Identify other surface features using the Mars map and observing guide in the December Sky & Telescope, page 57.
Jupiter is hidden behind the glare of the Sun.
Saturn (magnitude +0.6, in western Virgo) rises in the east in twilight, shines higher in the southeast later in the evening, and stands highest in the south around 1 a.m. In a telescope, Saturn's rings are tilted only 3.6° from edge-on to us. They'll narrow further to 1.7° in May.
Uranus and Neptune are behind the glare of the Sun.
Pluto (magnitude 14) 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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