Skywatch Line for Wednesday, February 28th, and Thursday, March 1st, 2018

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, February 28th, and Thursday, March 1st, written by Louis Suarato.

Wednesday, the 98% illuminated, waxing gibbous Moon rises at 4:29 p.m. in the constellation Leo. The star less than a degree below the Moon is Regulus, Leo’s brightest. Regulus, at the distance of 79 light-years, is the closest of the bright stars in the sky. It is less than a half degree from the ecliptic, and frequently occulted by the Moon. Occultations of Regulus by the Moon occur in cycles of about 9 years, with each cycle lasting 18 months. The current cycle will end on April 24th. The Moon will reach its full phase on Friday at 7:51 p.m. EST. This is the first of two Full Moons in March, the second “Blue Moon” occurring on March 31st.

You may require binoculars, and a clear western horizon, to see Mercury and Venus, about 2 degrees apart, set an hour after the Sun. Jupiter rises about 10 minutes before midnight in Libra. On March 1st, at 2:06 a.m., Jupiter begins to occult its moon Europa. The occultation ends at 4:17 a.m. when Europa reappears from behind the planet. Mars rises at 2:09 a.m. in Ophiuchus. On February 15th, NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft aimed its Thermis camera at the Martian moons, Phobos and Deimos, and captured a 17 second video. At the time, Deimos was 12,222 miles away, and Phobos was 3,489 miles from the satellite. Mars brightness increases from magnitude 0.8 to 0.3 during March as the Red Planet moves closer to Earth by 900,000 miles a day. On March 1st, Mars will be 130 million miles from Earth, and on March 31st, it will be 103 million miles away. Saturn rises at 3:20 a.m. in Sagittarius. Mars approaches Saturn during March, closing to within 1 degree of the ringed-planet on March 31st. During March, the waning Moon pays a visit to the solar system’s two largest planets. On March 7th, the 69% illuminated, waning gibbous Moon will be about 3 degrees from Jupiter. On March 11th, the 31% illuminated, waning crescent Moon will close to about 5 degrees of Saturn.

Mark your calendars for March 16th and 17th, as the Albany Area Amateur Astronomers star parties return at the Landis Arboretum in Esperance, NY.

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