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Sky Report - Sky Sights for March 2010

Venus Blossoms Low in Western Dusk,  Saturn Closest and Mars Fades

The moon can act as a guide to the planets as it moves along its zodiac path, passing each of the bright planets during March. On the first evening of March, the nearly full moon appears beneath the planet Saturn in the southeastern evening sky. By March 5th, the moon won’t be rising till after midnight. At midmonth the moon will have vanished in the sun’s glare. By March 17th, a narrow crescent moon will be seen above the brilliant planet Venus low  in the western dusk. On March 22nd, the evening moon appears half full and at its best for viewing the moon’s craters and mountains with binoculars and telescopes. On March 24th and 25th the moon will appear near the planet Mars. On Saturday and Sundays, March 28 and 29th the moon again appears near Saturn. Also, March 29th is the night of the full moon, the moon that rises as the sun sets and hangs in the sky all night long.

The winter evening star groups have now shifted into the Southwestern evening sky. Your attention will be drawn to the sparkling star Sirius, the night’s brightest star. Above and to the right of Sirius is Orion, the Hunter, the night’s brightest star group. Orion’s trademark is his row of three stars in a row, marking his belt. Above the belt is pinkish Betelgeuse, marking one shoulder of Orion. Below the belt is white-blue Rigel, Orion’s brightest star. To the right of Orion is the bright golden star Capella.  High in the North is the Big Dipper, pouring its soup into the Little Dipper. The two leftmost stars of the Big Dipper point  downward to the North Star, a modest solitary star. The North Star is the end star of the Little Dipper’s handle. If you follow the Big Dipper’s handle outward, you come to the bright golden star Arcturus low in the East. Arcturus is the first bright spring evening star to appear.

During March, four planets can be seen in the evening sky. The easiest to spot is yellowish Mars, shining high in the southern evening sky. In March, Mars is in Cancer, one of the dimmest zodiac star groups. Just above and to the right of Mars are the two bright stars of Gemini, Pollux and Castor. Mars is brighter than either of these Gemini stars and shines with a steady light. To the left of Mars is the star group Leo, which features a sickle of stars whose handle ends with the bright star Regulus (the Lion’s heart). Yet farther to the left and lower is the planet Saturn, shining below the tail of the Lion. Saturn is closest to the Earth on March 21st, when it rises as the sun sets and hangs in the sky all night long. Saturn is not at its usual brightness for its rings are nearly edgewise. The brilliant planet Venus is slowly creeping upward in the western dusk. At the start of March, Venus is setting about an hour after sunset which increases to 90 minutes by the end of the month. At the end of March, the innermost planet Mercury can be seen to the lower right of Venus. The planet Jupiter is at too low an angle to the sun to be seen during March.

The current program at the Frostburg State Planetarium is “Quick Intro to the Stars” with free public shows on Sundays at 4 p.m and 7 p.m. on March 7, 21 and 28. Our programs begin with an informal tour of the current evening sky using our Planetarium projector. The main feature covers the most important facts about stars; stars have a huge range in characteristics from the barely lit brown dwarfs to  the supergiants that could swallow most of the inner planets orbits. The Planetarium is in the front lobby of Tawes Hall in room 302. Call (301) 687-7799 to request a free Planetarium bookmark with small campus map be sent to your mailing address. You can also visit the FSU website at  www.frostburg.edu/planetarium.     










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