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Touring the Skies By Jim Bonser (

March 5, 2020
Reinbeck Courier
On Thursday, March 19 at 10:50 p.m. spring officially begins for us in the northern hemisphere. Hooray! To be honest, I would have to say that overall this winter has been fairly mild with only a few weeks of really cold weather so far, nevertheless, Unfortunately, in spite of the mostly mild temperatures, I think I could count the number of moonless, cloudless nights on two hands. I was really hoping to get some fresh images of the Orion Nebula, but it has been too cloudy, or if it was clear, too windy or squarely in the middle of one of those cold snaps to get out and do any imaging for me. The weather in March may or may not be good enough for imaging the nebula, but if you are a fan of Orion it isn’t too late to enjoy that magnificent constellation. Orion has shifted westward over the winter months until now, at the beginning of March, The Great Hunter can be seen high in the southern skies just an hour or so after sunset. With his club raised high, he is bearing down on his nemesis: Taurus the Bull which is marked by the bright red star Aldebaran. Aldebaran is part of a ‘V’ shaped open cluster of stars called the Hyades (pronounced HI-uh-dees). On March 3rd, a bright waxing gibbous Moon makes a nice triangle with red Betelgeuse in Orion almost straight down and red Aldebaran in Taurus about 18 degrees to the right. Aldebaran shines at about magnitude 0.87 and normally Betelgeuse shines just a little brighter at magnitude 0.45. However, Betelgeuse has been noticeably dimmer this winter. As you look at these two stars, which seems brighter to you? Just for fun, when we get a clear night at sunset, why not go out and do a comparison of the two and see if you can detect any changes over time! Speaking of the Moon, we will have a chance this month to see the Moon at its biggest for the year when the Moon’s orbit carries it very close to us Sunday night, March 9th. This is called perigee. It will be closest at about midnight. Interestingly, the full Moon on October 31st will happen close to when the Moon is farthest from us – called apogee. You might not be able to tell the difference just by looking but pictures taken with the same lens on both nights held side by side will show the difference clearly. Let’s hope the weather cooperates so we can try and see. The other notable object in the early evening sky this month is the planet next nearest the Sun from us; the planet Venus. Venus shines super bright all month above the western horizon. On the 24th Venus will glide to just under 10 degrees of the 7 Sisters also known as The Pleiades. With clear, transparent skies, many cell phone cameras would be capable of taking in the beautiful scene of Orion, Taurus, the Pleiades and Venus. Use a cellphone holder mounted on a tripod if you have one for the sharpest pictures. You might be surprised how well the picture turns out! Jupiter, Saturn and Mars all do an intricate dance ahead of the rising Sun this month so if you are an early riser, be sure to follow them as they trade places. You should be able to identify them by their colors. At the beginning of the month, around 5:45 or a little more than an hour before sunrise, all three will make a fairly straight line with reddish Mars farthest to the west, followed by bright Jupiter with golden yellow Saturn bringing up the rear. By month’s end, Mars will have slowly advanced to the rear to join lovely Saturn as they both follow behind brilliant Jupiter. Pluto is hanging out with the guys this month too, but Pluto is far to dim to see without a telescope. If you happen to have access to a large telescope or a scope with at camera, Mars will pass less than 0.02 degrees from Pluto around 12:15 a.m. on March 23rd. Clear Skies!

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