This is the Skywatch Line for Monday, and Tuesday, March 23rd and 24th, written by Joe Slomka.
The Sun sets at 7:12 PM; night falls at 8:49. Dawn begins at 05:15 AM and ends with the Sun rising at 6:51.
The Moon turns “New” at 5:28 AM on Tuesday. While the Moon is technically visible at sunrise and sunset, it is so close to the Sun that observation is difficult.
Two planets occupy the constellation Aries on both nights. Venus continues as the brightest of the pair, blazing with minus 4th magnitude, 23 arc-seconds in size, 36° high in the southwest, about 52% illuminated and sets at 11:14 PM. Monday, Venus is at Greatest Eastern Elongation, which means it is most distant from the Sun, about 406,688 Km (252,704 Miles). Venus has an 8-year cycle in which it visits the same patch of night sky, a fact known since ancient times. Uranus accompanies Venus, but is dimmer with 6th magnitude, about 3 arc-seconds, 20° degrees high and sets at 9:45 PM.
The pre-sunrise sky still features the parade of bright planets, but with a difference. Since last week, Mars and Jupiter switched positions; now Mars is between the two gas giant planets, Jupiter and Saturn. All three reside in Sagittarius. Jupiter rises at 3:55 AM, glowing with minus 2nd magnitude and appearing a large 36 arc-seconds. Mars rises at 4:05 AM, shining with 1st magnitude and growing larger with 6 arc-seconds. Saturn brings up the rear by rising at 4:18 AM, shining with zero magnitude and appearing about half Jupiter’s size. By 6 AM, the early riser can see them moderately high in the southeastern sky, about 15° high. Mars lies about 2° from Jupiter and 4° from Saturn. Mercury, although at greatest elongation from the Sun hugs the eastern horizon and is very difficult to spot.
College students being sent home due to a pandemic is not a new thing. The Great Bubonic Plague was roaring through England. Between 1665 and 1666, one quarter of London’s population died. It took several generations for the population to recover.
In his 20’s, Isaac Newton was a student at Trinity College in Cambridge, England. In an early form of “social distancing,” the college sent students home; for Isaac, that meant returning to Woolsthorpe Manor. He continued his Math studies and developed an early form of Calculus. He also acquired prisms and started study and experiments about light and developed his theories of Optics. One account depicts Isaac creating a hole in his shades to generate a beam of sunlight into the room. Finally, there was the famous Apple Tree. While he never was hit on the head by a falling apple, his theory of Gravity revealed that the force was not limited to Earth and Moon, but also planets and falling apples. He later called this period his annus mirabilis (miracle year). When school resumed, he returned to Trinity in 1667, along with his theories. Within 6 months, he was named a “Fellow.” Two years later he became a professor!