Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, March 7 and 8, 2016

This is the Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, March seventh and eighth.

The Sun sets at 5:53 PM; night falls at 7:27. Dawn breaks at 4:44 AM and ends with sunrise at 6:18.

The Moon turns “New” Tuesday evening and is not seen either Monday or Tuesday evening.

The darkening sky contains only one bright planet – Jupiter. Jupiter rises at 5:45 PM and is found near Leo’s hind leg. Jupiter is at opposition Tuesday morning and sets shortly after sunrise. While binoculars readily show Jupiter and its four Galilean moons, telescopes present an exciting sight Monday evening – two shadows on its face. The satellite Europa and its shadow began their trek across the planet during Jupiter’s rise. At 7:28 PM, the shadow of the moon Io joins Europa’s, followed by Io itself. Both shadows can be seen through most amateur telescopes. Europa and its shadow exit Jupiter at 8:58 PM.  Io and its shadow exit at 9:43 PM. Telescopic observers can also see the Great Red Spot, a giant storm, on Jupiter at 12:13 AM and 8:04 PM Tuesday.

The planet Uranus still inhabits Pisces. However it is quite low in the western sky and sets at 8:28 PM.

Midnight sees Jupiter at is highest and best observed around Midnight. Meanwhile, Mars rises before Midnight. Mars is now at zero magnitude and also growing bigger in our binoculars and telescopes.

Saturn joins the scene by rising at 1:10 AM in the dim constellation Ophiuchus. It is slightly dimmer than Mars, but its cream white orb stands out amid the stars. Saturn’s rings are not to be missed, especially by first time sky watchers.

Venus rises before Civil Dawn. It appears very low on the eastern horizon; an unobstructed view may be necessary to find it. Venus blazes at minus 3.9 magnitude and is 92 percent illuminated.

If you observe from a rural dark site, Jupiter is about 18 degrees to the left of a dim roughly triangular small constellation. This constellation is Sextans.

Most constellations are related to mythical people or objects. In the 16th and 17th centuries, new constellations were devised to celebrate newly discovered star patterns and high technology of the times.  One of these constellations is Sextans, the Sextant. Sextans is found between Leo’s front paws and the constellation Hydra.

Johannes Hevelius was a Polish astronomer in the port city of Gdansk (also known as Danzig).  Prominent in local politics, his true passion was astronomy. In 1641, he built a private observatory that included a 150-foot telescope. However, he did most of his work with a six-foot brass sextant. He was inducted into Britain’s Royal Society in 1664.  A sextant contains an arc, one-sixth of a circle. It has a moveable arm that permits measurement of angles. In 1679, fire destroyed his observatory.  He immortalized his loss with an invented constellation, Sextans, and rebuilt his observatory.  Sextants still exist. Sailors use a version that includes a small telescope on the swinging arm and mirrors. Along with an accurate clock and astronomical almanac, the navigator locates his position at sea. That skill is being lost to the increasing use of GPS to fix a position with unprecedented accuracy.

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