Skywatch Line for Wednesday, March 15th, and Thursday, March 16th, 2017

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, March 15th, and Thursday, March 16th, written by Louis Suarato.
Venus is in retrograde motion, traveling toward the Sun, and is about 17 degrees above the horizon at sunset. Wednesday night, Venus shines as a 4.2% illuminated disk. Use binoculars or a telescope to see crescent Venus before it get too close to the setting sun. Venus reaches inferior conjunction on March 25th, and will emerge as a morning star by the end of the month. Mercury passes 9.5 degrees from Venus, but is still too close to the Sun to view. Look for Mercury in the evening sky toward month’s end. The distance between Venus and Mars increases, as Mars moves into the constellation Aries. Jupiter rises just after 9 p.m. in Virgo, followed by the 88% illuminated, waning gibbous Moon an hour and half later. The shadow of Jupiter’s moon Europa begins transiting the planet at 10:47 p.m., followed by Europa at 11:55 p.m.. Europa’s shadow transit ends at 1:16 a.m. Thursday, and Europa’s transit ends one hour later. Saturn rises in the “steam” of the Teapot asterism at 2:39 a.m. in Sagittarius. Look to the upper left of Saturn for the open star cluster M23. To Saturn’s lower left is open star cluster NGC 6469. To the lower left of NGC 6469 is the Trifid nebula.
For the next two weeks, the Zodiacal Light is visible rising up from the western horizon after sunset. The Zodiacal Light is a conical white glow that extends from the point of sunset and up toward the ecliptic. This light is the reflection of interplanetary dust caused by the mostly dormant Jupiter family of comets. As with most astronomical observations, the darker the skies, the better chance you have to observe this phenomenon.
March 16th is the birth date of astronomer Caroline Herschel. Born in 1750, Caroline, although sometimes lost in shadow of her brother William’s fame, discovered eight comets and three nebulae.
The Albany Area Amateur Astronomers will be hosting their monthly meeting this Thursday night at 7:30 at miSci in Schenectady. This month’s speaker is long time club member and Sky & Telescope columnist Sue French. The topic is “The Inquiring Observer”. Non-members are always welcome.

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