Winter Marches Into Spring
Daylight Saving Time begins at 2:00 am, Sunday March 9, so don’t forget to set your clocks forward before going to bed Saturday the 8th. That “extra hour” of daylight might make you feel better, but now it’ll be darker in the morning, and you’ll have to stay out later to see the stars. Times listed on this star chart reflect the time change.
Something that will also make people happy: spring officially begins at 11:57 CDT, March 20.
During February, the only planet visible in the early evening was Jupiter, a bright point of light centered in Gemini the twins.
This month, orange Mars joins the evening show along with the bright blue star Spica in the otherwise faint constellation of Virgo the maiden. Mars rises above the eastern horizon around 9:30 pm CST at the start of the month, but before 8:00 pm CDT as April begins. Unless you have a really flat view to the east, wait an hour or two for Mars to climb above any trees and buildings near you.
If you have access to a telescope, compare the views of Jupiter and Mars. Jupiter is much further away than Mars, but it’s also much bigger. The telescope will reveal Jupiter’s cloud bands and four large moons. Mars rarely looks much better than a blurry orange dot. Both are still worth a look.
Watch on March 17 as a just-past-full Moon joins Mars and Spica, forming a pretty triangle. The view on March 18 is even better!
Look again on March 20 to find the Moon close to ringed planet Saturn, in the constellation of Libra the scales. The bright moon will wash out the faint stars of Libra, and might even make Saturn a bit less obvious. Binoculars can reveal Saturn to look slightly oval in shape, but a telescope will let you see the rings more clearly. It’s a beautiful sight that we’ll get to enjoy throughout the summer.
Earlybirds almost can’t help but notice incredibly bright Venus low in the eastern sky before sunrise.
Two New Moons
You may notice on your calendar there are two New Moons in March this year. Nothing special is going on – it’s just an oddity of our calendar system. There were no new moons at all last month. See our February 2014 star chart for an explanation.
You’ll never actually see a new moon (unless you are watching a solar eclipse) because that’s when the Moon lies between the Earth and Sun.
A great time to start looking for the Moon is two or three days after the new moon. Watch for a thin crescent low in the west after sunset. Go outside each clear night and observe how the Moon appears to move west to east against the background stars as it orbits around the Earth. Night after night, you’ll see more and more of the Moon lit up by the sun.
The line between the light and dark parts of the Moon is called the terminator. As you gaze at the Moon, imagine you are standing on the Moon near the terminator. You’d see the Sun low in the sky, with the mountains and craters near you casting long shadows. Those long shadows make surface features really stand out in binoculars or a telescope. And because the terminator changes every day, you’ll get a new view every time you look!
Enjoy Orion. Do Science.
How many stars can you see at night? It’s not as many as it used to be. The Globe at Night program is an international citizen-science campaign to raise public awareness of the impact of light pollution. Everyone is invited to measure their night sky brightness and submit observations with a computer or smart phone. It's easy to do - just follow these 5 simple steps.
- Use the Globe at Night website to find a particular constellation in the evening sky. Currently that constellation is Orion the hunter, but it changes with the seasons.
- Use globeatnight.org to find the latitude and longitude of where you’ll be observing.
- Go outside more than an hour after sunset on a moonless night. Let your eyes get used to the dark for at least 10 minutes before your first observation. Note of the amount of cloud cover.
- How many stars can you see in Orion? Match your observation to one of the 7 charts on the website.
- Report your data, including the time, date, your location, and amount of cloud cover.
The data you provide helps Globe At Night generate maps of light pollution worldwide. You can see the current map on their web site, and explore data from the past eight years to see how things have changed.
Light pollution threatens our ability to see the stars, but more importantly, it affects the health of both wildlife and humans. It’s also an indication of wasted energy from inefficient lighting fixtures that spill light upward where it’s not needed.
Nearly 100,000 measurements have been submitted from people in 115 countries over the last eight years, making Globe at Night the most successful light pollution awareness campaign ever!
There are two free star parties scheduled for March, Saturday, March 8, at the Visitors Center of Long Hunter State Park and Saturday, March 22, at the Edwin Warner Park Special Events Field. Both events are 7:30 to 9:30 pm.
Members of the Barnard-Seyfert Astronomical Society will set up telescopes so everyone can observe Jupiter, the Orion Nebula, the Pleiades star cluster, and more.
Winter (and spring) star parties can be quite chilly so, be sure to bundle up in layers, bring along a warm beverage, and join other astronomy enthusiasts for a great time.
Star parties are weather dependent and may be cancelled. Visit our web site for updates before making the trip, especially if the weather is iffy. There, you’ll also find star party tips, a calendar of future events, and a listing of Planetarium and laser shows for clear and cloudy days.
Volcanoes, Earthquakes, Tornados!
Join experts risking their lives for scientific discovery as they forge their way through volcanic flows, along treacherous fault lines, and in cars heading straight toward a raging twister. Get up close and personal to Forces of Nature in the Sudekum Planetarium, March 1 through May 23