March 2015

Dueling Planets

Two bright planets stand out in the early evening after sunset. Venus appears in the west-southwest, and Jupiter in the east-northeast. Both planets will gradually appear higher above the horizon night after night, over the next several months. Which planet is brighter? It might initially be hard to tell.

Compare Jupiter to Regulus in Leo the lion nearby. Which is brighter? What about Rigel in Orion the hunter’s right foot or Betelgeuse in his left shoulder? Even Sirius in Canis Major the big dog, the brightest star we see in the night sky, doesn’t hold a candle to Jupiter.

Jupiter outshines the brightest stars, but if you could put Venus right next to Jupiter, you would discover Venus is far brighter still. Jupiter may be the largest planet in the solar system, but it’s also much further away than Venus. Plus, Venus’ atmosphere acts like a mirror, reflecting most of the sunlight that hits it.

A third planet in our evening sky, Mars, is very faint. On the evening of March 21, a slim crescent Moon will appear just to the left of Mars. Binoculars will make it easier to pick them out of the sunset twilight. A slightly wider crescent Moon joins Venus in the west on March 22. During the night of March 29, the Moon will pass by Jupiter.

For extra planet-watching points this month, there is chance to see the faint and faraway planet Uranus. On the evening of March 11, the seventh planet from the Sun will appear as a faint star below and to the left of Mars through binoculars.

Get up before sunrise to find three stars forming a slight curve that marks the head of Scorpius the scorpion. When pale yellow Saturn rises after midnight within Scorpius, even experienced observers might look twice because Saturn is positioned in line with the "head" of the scorpion, giving it an extra ‘star’. On March 12, the Moon joins the curve, only two degrees from Saturn.

Not Much of a Lunar Eclipse

There is technically a total lunar eclipse early on the morning of April 4, but we won’t see much from Middle Tennessee. The partial phase of the eclipse begins at 5:16 am with the Moon just 13 degrees above the western horizon. The moon will set before totality begins. Observers in the western U.S. will see more of the eclipse, but for a view of totality, you’ll want to head out to the Pacific Ocean. As this will be the shortest total lunar eclipse of the 21st century, we recommend staying home.

Mark your calendar instead for Sunday evening, September 27, 2015, to attend a Total Lunar Eclipse Party at Adventure Science Center. Watch our web site for details.

While you’re updating your calendar, don’t forget the Total Solar Eclipse on August 21, 2017 that will sweep across the continental U.S., passing right through Nashville!

Are You Ready For Spring Yet?

Back in February, that pesky groundhog saw his silly shadow and predicted six more weeks of winter. Actually the vernal equinox always falls just a little more than six weeks after Groundhog Day. This year, March 20 at 5:45 pm CDT marks the official start of spring in the northern hemisphere.

While the weather should improve throughout March, the equinox is no guarantee that winter weather has completely passed. According to NOAA records for Middle Tennessee, the latest measurable snowfall of 1.5" occurred here on April 25, 1910.

Just don’t plant anything soon after the equinox because Mother Nature has been known to fool us. The earliest last spring freeze was on March 5, 1927. The average last spring freeze is April 6, so waiting until after Tax Day, April 15, is usually safe for planting, but not always. The latest recorded spring freeze took place on April 25, 1910.

March to March Star Parties

There are two free public star parties this month: Saturday, March 14 at the Visitor Information Center at Long Hunter State Park and March 28 at Shelby Bottoms Nature Center. Both events run from 8:00 to 10:00 pm, weather permitting.

Members of the Barnard-Seyfert Astronomical Society set up their telescopes so everyone at these family-friendly gatherings can observe the Moon, star clusters, galaxies, and more. Be sure to bundle up because it will likely be cold!

Star parties require good weather and may be cancelled if it’s cloudy. Visit our star parties page for updates before making the trip, especially if the weather is iffy. You’ll also find star party tips, driving directions, and a list of future events.

How to Photograph the Real Sky

BSAS holds its general meeting on the third Wednesday of each month, from 7:30 to 9:00 pm, at the Cumberland Valley Girl Scout Council Building at 4522 Granny White Pike.

BSAS President Theo Wellington recently attended the Southwest Astrophotography Seminar and will share what she learned at a free program on March 18. Highlights will include tips, tricks, software, and topics ranging from DSLR photography to outreach. This program is for everyone, especially beginners!

Take an extraordinary journey into the mysterious realm of fluorescent coral reefs, bioluminescent sea creatures, and rare marine life - without getting wet. This sensory experience features beautiful underwater scenery, a soaring musical score, and no narration. Dramatic photography reveals the complex community living just below the ocean’s surface and highlights this fragile ecosystem that needs our protection.

Dome Club Nashville is designed to showcase experiences that envelop audiences within the unique environment of the planetarium. Join us for the next Dome Club on Saturday, March 14, from 6:00 to 7:00 pm to explore Coral: Rekindling Venus.