This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, March 7th, and Thursday, March 8th, written by Louis Suarato.
The 69% illuminated, waning gibbous Moon sets at 9:40 a.m. Wednesday. The Moon rises 63% illuminated at 4 minutes past midnight. Overnight, the Moon will cross the sky below Jupiter and above Mars. The bright reddish star to the lower right of the Moon is Antares, the brightest star in Scorpius. Friday morning, the Moon will be closer to Mars, and to the left of Antares. Saturn rises 50 minutes after Mars, separated by 13 degrees. Look low in the west for Mercury above Venus as they set about an hour after sunset. The two innermost planets are 3 degrees apart.
If you’re looking for signs of Spring beyond the chevron flights of Canada geese heading north, and the wakening of hibernating animals, look to space. The saying is “March comes in like a lion…”. Look above your eastern horizon after dusk these nights and you’ll see that the constellation Leo is the first to rise. Another celestial sign that Spring is close is the position of the Big Dipper asterism within the “Great Bear” or Ursa Major. If you use Polaris as the center of an imaginary clock, you’ll notice that between 6 p.m. and midnight, the Big Dipper moves from the 3 o’clock position counterclockwise to 12 o’clock. It is this upside down position that the Big Dipper will maintain during the evening hours of Spring.
March 7th is the birth date of two pioneers in astrophotography. Henry Draper, born in 1837, made the first photograph of the spectrum of a star when he captured the image of Vega in 1872. Draper was also the first to photograph a nebula, the Great Orion Nebula, in 1880. English astronomer John Herschel was born in 1792. The son of William Herschel, John followed up on his father’s achievements by further discovering another 525 nebulae and clusters. John Herschel was also a chemist who contributed to the development of photographic paper. Herschel also introduced the terms positive and negative images. March 8th is the birth date for telescope manufacturer Alvan Clark. Born in 1804, Clark also discovered the companion star to Sirius. Clark made The Comet Seeker telescope for the Dudley Observatory in the mid-1800’s. The telescope remains part of the observatory’s collection.