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Looking Up

Evening Sky view Late March 2019

After the winter we’ve had, maybe the best part about March is that it hosts the vernal equinox! Anyone ready for spring? Of course we all know this means nothing as we’ve had snow in April before, but at least the days are getting longer fairly quickly. The actual equinox (when the Sun is directly above the Earth’s equator) occurs on March 20 at 4:58pm. Our noon Sun rises due east, is 50 degrees high at noon, and sets due west. Be careful driving early in the morning and late in the day as the Sun rises and sets in the middle of an east/west road.
If you want to catch Mercury this month, look early. As March begins, Mercury sets at roughly the end of evening twilight (about 7:15pm CST). Look a little south of west and only about a fist high. Given Mercury is at about mag-nitude 0.5 and it’s amongst the stars of Pisces, meaning it should be the brightest thing there. Soon after the first of the month, though, Mercury plunges towards the Sun. By the 13th, it’s only setting less than a half hour after the Sun.
Mars is still with us, though it’s clear across the other side of the solar system. Though Mars is unimpressive through the eye-piece, what may be more inter-esting is its position. By the end of the month, Mars will pass be-tween two star clusters, the Plei-ades and the Hyades. The Hya-des are the closest open cluster to us (153 light years) and nearly three times closer than the Pleia-des, but the stars are six times older. The image here is for March 31. A crescent Moon is below Mars on the 10th and to its left the next night. Mars doesn’t set until after 10:30pm CST all month.
Like last month, the rest of the action is in the morning sky, though the planets clustered there in February are separating some. Jupiter begins the month rising at 2am CST to the lower left of Antares. This time is 1:30am CDT by the end of March. Saturn rises about two hours after Jupiter. Venus follows 30 minutes later. The rise time for Venus hovers around 4:30am CST though the sunrise time changes. Venus is inching closer to the Sun, though it’s taking its time. In fact, as each morning passes, Venus appears to move towards due east roughly parallel to the horizon. Venus won’t pass behind the Sun until mid-August! As shown in the Night Sky Network article later in this issue, a waning crescent Moon is near Saturn on the morning of March 1 and near Venus the next morning. The whole thing repeats itself at the end of the month with the Moon near Jupiter on the morning of the 27th and Saturn on the 29th.