Title: March Skywatch Highlights
Location: Hawaiian Islands
Date / Time: March 2012
Comments: The brightest stars & constellations of Winter continue to bedazzle us this month, while the planets put on quite the show! Orion & his faithful hunting dogs, (Canis Major & Minor), as well as Taurus, Gemini, Leo, & the other great constellations of Winter, display boldly in our evening skies. Stunning VENUS glows brilliantly, high in the southwest just after sunset. Our "sister planet" shines far brighter than any other point of light in the sky. Venus appears higher in the sky each night, as it approaches elongation on March 27th, its greatest angular distance (46 degrees) east of the Sun. On March 4th Venus crosses from eastern Pisces into Aries, & will appear 9-degrees due west of JUPITER, the second brightest dot in the sky. Venus, blazing at magnitude minus -4.4, and Jupiter, a brilliant mag. minus -2.1, shine together in the western sky at dusk. The gap between our 2 brightest planets continues to narrow each night. Between March 11th & 15th they will appear just 3-degrees apart: "The conjunction of the year." The best views of the Venus-Jupiter conjunction will come with naked eyes, or through binoculars. During this period the stunning pair stand 30-degrees above the western horizon an hour after sunset, and set at around 10PM. With a small telescope or good binoculars, you can view Jupiter's 4 bright Galilean moons in their ever-changing configurations. Larger scopes will reveal Jupiter's dark equatorial belts, (one on either side of a brighter equatorial zone), the giant red spot, & other dynamic surface features. MARS reaches opposition this month (when it lies opposite the Sun in our sky). The Red Planet rises at dusk, sets at dawn, & remains visible all night long! Mars approaches closer to Earth than it has in the past two years, (a "mere" 62.6 million miles), providing exquisite views for observers. It shines with a ruddy glow, at magnitude minus -1.2, among the background stars of Leo. Mars ends the month about 5-degrees from Regulus, Leo's brightest star (the "heart" of the lion), & appears approx. 10 times brighter. During the first week of March, MERCURY is viewable low in the west just after sunset. The tiny innermost planet shines at magnitude minus -0.4, easily bright enough to pierce the twilight glow. Mercury reaches greatest eastern elongation on March 5, when it lies 18-deg. east of the Sun. Around this date, look for Mercury about 14-deg. above the western horizon, 30-minutes after sunset. SATURN rises shortly before 9PM in mid-March. It lies approx 6-degrees northeast of Spica, Virgo's brightest star. At magnitude 0.4, the planet outshines the star by 75 percent. Notice Saturn's golden hue, compared to blue-white Spica. Saturn will brighten considerably this month as it approaches its April opposition. Saturn's spectacular ring system currently tilts 15-degrees to our line of sight from Earth. This wide angle affords magnificent telescopic views. The Southern Cross, (Crux), rises high enough for viewing by 01:00AM at the start of March, and by 11:30PM at months end. To view Crux, you'll need an unobstructed view to the southern horizon. About an hour after Crux rises, look for 2 bright stars, Alpha & Beta Centauri, which "point" to the Cross to their right/west. At that time you should be able to see all the way from Polaris, (the North Star), to the bottom star in the Southern Cross, Acrux. For a March Hawaiian sky map visit Bishop Museum Planetarium www.bishopmuseum.org/planetarium (bishopmuseum.org)

Maintained by Roz Reiner - Kauai, Hawaii

 

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