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Sky Happenings
Moab UT (at City Hall)
38O34’ N Latitude 109O33’ W Longitude
4048 ft - 1234 m




The Sky for March 2009

By Faylene Roth


Sunrise and Sunset Times for
March 2008

DAYLIGHT
Sunrise and sunset times are calculated for a flat horizon. Actual times may vary depending upon the surrounding landscape. The period of daylight lengthens by one hour and four minutes during February. Twilight extends daylength by several hours. Civil twilight provides adequate light for movement and begins about one-half hour before sunrise. Nautical twilight reveals shapes but not detail and begins approximately one hour before sunrise. Astronomical twilight illuminates the sky with a faint glow. It occurs about one and one-half hours before sunrise. The same progression applies to dusk.

MOON HAPPENINGS
March 2 find a waxing crescent moon high in the western sky near the Pleidaes. The moon reaches first quarter phase March 4 at 12:46am. View the full moon on March 10. It rises sometime after 7:18pm depending upon the surrounding landscape and becomes full at 8:38pm. The bright star near the moon on the night of March 13 is Spica (Virgo). On March 17 the waning gibbous moon rises with Antares (Scorpio). Third quarter moon occurs March 18 at 11:47am. A waning crescent moon rises with Jupiter on the morning of March 22 just ahead of astronomical twilight. New moon arrives on March 26 at 10:06am.

VERNAL EQUINOX
Spring arrives on March 20 at 5:44am. On this day the sun rises due east and sets due west. It is above the horizon for exactly 12 hours. Due to refraction of light waves around the curvature of the earth, we actually see the sun for about four minutes before it rises and after it sets. Equinoxes occur when the ecliptic crosses the celestial equator. The ecliptic marks the sun’s path across the sky throughout the year. The celestial equator is an extension of the earth’s equator into space. The three stars of Orion’s belt sit on the celestial equator.

CELESTIAL EVENTS
Comets: Find dark skies outside the city limits and look for Comet Lulin moving westward each night. At the beginning of the month look for it below the head of Leo. Look for a fuzzy blur shining as bright as a +5 to +6 magnitude star. With binoculars or telescope, it appears as a ball with a string-like trail of dust pulled westward towards the sun. An antitail may appear to the east when the comet is nearest to the sun. A few days later it passes through the center of Cancer. The comet appears much fainter by mid-month as it approaches Gemini.
Meteor Activity: No scheduled meteor showers occur this month, although random meteor activity may be observed at any time.

ZODIACAL LIGHT
Imagine sunlight streaming through a window and illuminating dust particles floating in the room. In the same way, the setting sun illuminates dust particles present in the inner solar system. Near the vernal equinox, the sun’s rays shoot high into the sky after sunset, and we can see this display. It is the zodiacal light. As astronomical twilight fades, look for a cone of light originating from the point where the sun set and leaning a little to the south. Best time to view is early in March before the waxing moon brightens the evening sky. Find a high vantage point with a clear view of the western sky. After March 23 the zodiacal light is visible in the morning before astronomical twilight begins.

LOCAL STAR COUNT

Wabisabi is sponsoring an evening of stargazing, telescope viewing, and the GLOBE at Night Star Count to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy. Meet at the Ken’s Lake parking lot on Saturday, March 21, at 8:10pm. Cloudy skies or inclement weather cancels the event. Follow-up dates are Sunday, March 22, or Saturday, March 28, as weather allows. Bring the star chart from this page and a flashlight covered with a red shield or a small brown paper bag. Dress warmly and bring a blanket or chair if desired. This event is free and open to all ages. Call 259-3313 for additional information.


Note: Hold your hand at arm’s length to measure apparent distances in the sky. Adjust for the size of your hand. The width of the little finger approximates 1.5 degrees. Middle, ring, and little finger touching represent about 5 degrees. The width of a fist is about 10 degrees. The hand stretched from thumb to little finger equals 20 degrees. The diameter of both the full moon and the sun spans only 0.5 degree.

VISIBLE PLANETS
Jupiter – Look in the early morning twilight for Jupiter, shining brightly at -2 magnitude. It rises in the southeastern sky with Capricornus throughout the month.

Mars – Identify Mars in the late morning twilight about seven degrees below Jupiter. It appears beneath Mercury and then passes it during the first few days of the month. At 1.2 magnitude, it shines fainter than Mercury but with a red-orange glow. Mars will be difficult to see this month, but it is worth the effort on the morning of March 1 to look for it rising within one degree of Mercury.

Mercury – On the morning of March 1, Mercury is one degree above Mars in the early morning twilight. Mercury, at -0 magnitude, will be brighter than Mars. Look for both planets as nautical twilight begins, just as color appears in the landscape.

Saturn – On March 8 Saturn reaches opposition with the sun, which means it is on the opposite side of the earth from the sun. Look for it in the eastern sky as the sun sets and find it in the western sky as the sun rises. Shining at 0.7 magnitude, Saturn follows Leo’s bright star Regulus across the night sky. Compare the yellow light of Saturn with the blue light of Regulus.

Venus – Look in the early evening western sky for a brilliant view of Venus, shining at -4.6 magnitude throughout most of March. It becomes visible in late morning twilight around March 21. For a few days, it may be seen rising 30 minutes before sunrise and setting 30 minutes after sunset. With binoculars, or telescope, Venus appears as a thin crescent before it disappears into the glare of the sun. It reaches inferior conjunction on March 27 when it passes between the earth and the sun.

Note: Apparent magnitude values range from -4 to +6 for most planets and visible stars. The lower the value the brighter the object. A decrease of 1.0 magnitude is 2.5 times brighter.

Primary Sources: USGS, U.S. Naval Observatory,

MAJOR CONSTELLATIONS this MONTH

Overhead
Gemini
Cancer
Canis Minor

Northward
Cassiopeia
Perseus
Ursa Major
Ursa Minor


Eastward
Bootes
Corvus
Crater
Leo
Virgo

Southward
Canis Major
Hydra

Westward
Auriga
Orion
Taurus

The winter sky features two prominent star clusters. The Hyades are identified as the five stars that form the V of the bull’s head in Taurus. Ten degrees northwest of the Hyades are the six visible stars of the Pleiades. Each cluster represents a cloud of cosmic dust that spawned hundreds of thousands of stars.

Hold the star chart high above your head and match the compass directions to the direction you are facing.
Adjust the star chart by orienting Ursa Major (Big Dipper) to match its position in the sky.

The star chart approximates the night sky from astronomical twilight to midnight. As the night and the month progress, the constellations will shift toward the northwest.

 
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