Venus and the Sisters

   This week will be one of those weeks of planet viewing that will be remembered. The early morning skies have 4 of the visible planets arranged along the ecliptic over the eastern to southern horizon. In the evening skies there is the inner planet Venus moving eastward away from the Sun and rapidly, at least in terms of orbital speed, toward the open star cluster the Pleiades. This is a group of several hundred stars bound together by their respective gravitational attraction, and is located on the shoulder of Taurus the Bull.
   Venus, as a planet closer to the Sun than the Earth, will move more each day than the apparent speed of the Sun, which is based on the Earth’s orbital speed of about 0.98o each day. Venus being closer to the Sun will move approximately 1.6o each day.
   So over the course of 2-3 days the planet Venus will move across the stars of the Pleiades as this animated graphic is showing. It is set for 1-day intervals from April 2nd to the 5th. As Venus moves across the stars it will make for a great view either through binoculars or telescope.


   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.


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Planets on the Move

   Sometimes there are opportunities to observe the visible planets as they move along their respective orbital paths. Right now is one of those times when there are visible planets in both the evening and morning skies. And they are arranged such that you are able to see, not directly, but over a day at a time you are able to observe how planets closer to the Earth or Sun move relative to planets further away.
   The inner planet Venus, by itself in the evening skies, will pass across the stars of the Pleiades as this animated graphic shows. It is set at 1-day intervals and goes from April 2nd-5th.
   In the morning skies you will find three planets, Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter close together over the southeastern horizon before the Sun rises. Keep an eye on Mars as it moves past the slower moving Saturn.
   Shortly before sunrise the innermost planet, Mercury, rises and will also be visible as this graphic set for March 31st shows.


   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.


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Let the Triangle Point the Way

   In the morning skies, before sunrise local time, look toward the southeastern horizon for Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn to be arranged along the ecliptic in a grouping that starting with today will fit within the field of view of binoculars. If your skies are dark enough you may notice 3 bright stars arranged in a large triangle above the three planets. The stars, Vega, Deneb, and Altair, each from a different constellation, form the asterism known as the Summer Triangle.
   Over the next several days, into next month, Mars will steadily close in on Saturn for a nice close conjunction of about 1o on Tuesday March 31st.
   Further east, and lower, is the Dwarf Planet Ceres, and the innermost planet Mercury.

   And don’t forget – in the evening skies for the next several days the planet Venus will be closing in on the open star cluster, the Pleiades. This animated graphic is set for 1-day intervals from April 2nd-5th.
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
The morning planets

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.


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It’s Earth Hour for 8 Billion Angels

   Saturday March 28th is the annual Earth Hour celebration. Started in 2007 the Earth Hour celebration is a world-wide citizen-powered effort to call attention to our planet’s environment and the need to better take care of our home (our only home).
   Earth Hour, although one hour, is an ongoing effort to encourage taking action about climate change as well as the destruction of nature and decreases in biodiversity.
   So on Saturday evening March 28th, at 8:30 pm (your local time), turn the electrically powered lights off in your house for one hour. But don’t stop there. Act locally and think globally! Get involved – stay involved.
   With lights out this may be a good time to step outside, weather permitting, and take a look at what could possibly be darker night skies with lights off in your neighborhood. That’s the 4.5-day old waxing crescent Moon near the inner planet Venus. And Venus is just a few days away from passing across the open star cluster, the Pleiades.

   From the Earth Hour web site:

This year, we are facing Earth Hour in exceptional circumstances with countries around the world experiencing a health crisis with the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). In light of the latest developments, the Earth Hour global organizing team is recommending all individuals to take part in Earth Hour digitally this year.

   The Best of the Earth Observatory
   Choose the best among 32 pictures of Earth as seen by the many Earth-orbiting satellites. If you are not familiar with the Earth Observatory web site it is an incredible resource of images of our home planet.

   That’s us, and we have a home that is danger from not only climate change, the destruction of nature, and decreases in biodiversity, but our only home is also loosing to the demands of an increasing population and its effect on the local environment. At the 8 Billion Angels web site there is information about the effect a growing population is having on our planet. Be sure to watch the video trailer and perhaps consider organizing a community viewing.
click on graphic to go to the Earth Overshoot web site   Continue learning about our impact on the Earth by visiting the 8 Billion Angels companion web site Earth Overshoot.

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.


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March Moon at Apogee

   Our Moon reaches apogee, (greatest distance from Earth), for this orbit, on Tuesday March 24th. At that time the new Moon will be at a distance of 31.88 Earth diameters 252,712 miles (406,700 km) from the Earth.

   This is the greatest apogee distance, and smallest appearing (if you could see it) for our Moon this year. In other words this new Moon is a ‘Super-Mini Moon’!

   On the day of the apogee Moon the Moon is at new Moon phase so it rises with the Sun and sets with the Sun. Start watching for the waxing crescent Moon in the evening skies at sunset in a day or so.

   However there are four of the six naked-eye visible planets over the east-southeastern horizon before the Sun and new Moon rise.

   Does our Moon actually go around the Earth as this graphic shows? From our perspective on the Earth the Moon appears to circle around the Earth. However, in reality, the Moon orbits the Sun together with the Earth*

   *Click here to read my 2006 Scope on the Sky column “The Real Shape of the Moon’s Orbit”. (PDF)

   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to go to bobs-spaces.


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Mars-Jupiter Close Conjunction

   Friday morning March 20th the 26-day old waning crescent Moon will be near the Dwarf Planet Ceres. However the close conjunction (1-2o) between Mars and Jupiter should be an especially good view through the eyepiece of binoculars or the eyepiece of a telescope.

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.


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March Equinox – 2020

   Friday March 20th, this year-2020, is an equinox day. However depending on your local time zone the equinox may occur on the day before as the official time for the equinox is 03:54 UT on the 20th which for my time zone is 10:54 pm March 19th. Regardless, for those in the northern hemisphere winter is ending and spring has ‘sprung’ (starts). From a geographical perspective we would describe the Sun as being over the Earth’s equator, and as this graphic shows there would be an equal amount of daylight and night on our planet as a result.
    At mid-day on the equator the sun is directly overhead and from that latitude you have no elongated shadow, just a ‘blob-like’ shadow at your feet as this picture of my feet taken at mid-day in Quito Ecuador shows.

    Regardless of your hemispheric preference get outside and cast a shadow!

  Northern hemisphere spring officially (well at least astronomically) begins at 03:54 UT on the 20th which for my time zone is 10:54 pm March 19th when the Sun reaches the celestial coordinates of 0 hours and 0 degrees as it moves northward along the ecliptic crossing the celestial equator. At this location the Sun is just within the constellation of Pisces the Fishes and not entering Aries the Ram as the pseudoscience of astrology would have you believe.

    To learn more about the celestial coordinates click here to read a previous post about seasons and the equinox.

   Click here to see the online world sunlight map used to make the day/night graphic at the top of the page.


   Celebrate Solar Week March 23rd-27th. Click here to go to the Solar Week web site.

   
   
   
   During a trip to Quito Ecuador to visit one of the exchange student we had hosted, and her family, we spent the day at a Museum on the equator, Mitad del Mundo. I brought along my over-sized protractor knowing in advance that we would be at the museum. So at mid-day I had my wife stand on the equator (yellow line) and hold a string to the top of her head while Cathy, a sister of our exchange student, held the protractor. This was done during the summer so the Sun was over the northern horizon at mid-day and the Sun’s angle above the northern horizon was around 75o.

   Here is a short series of hourly pictures taken during the day on the September equinox on the equator in Quito Ecuador at Collegio Menor San Francisco de Quito, a private school that I visited and did the SunShIP project with (Sun Shadow Investigation Project).

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