Seeing Stars with James Wooten: Springing forward into Daylight Saving Time

This star map shows the Houston sky at 9 pm CST on March 1, 9 pm CDT on March 15, and 8 pm on March 31. To use the map, put the direction you are facing at the bottom. Jupiter is high overhead in Gemini, the Twins. Dazzling Orion, the Hunter is to the Twins’ lower right. To Orion’s left are the two Dog Stars—little dog Procyon and big dog Sirius. Sirius outshines all other stars we see at night. In the north, the Big Dipper is higher in the sky. Leo, the Lion, rises in the east. These stars, along with Arcturus, announce the coming spring. Mars now rises in late evening.

This star map shows the Houston sky at 9 p.m. CST on March 1, 9 p.m. CDT on March 15, and 8 p.m. on March 31. To use the map, put the direction you are facing at the bottom. Jupiter is high overhead in Gemini, the Twins. Dazzling Orion the Hunter is to the Twins’ lower right. To Orion’s left are the two Dog Stars: little dog Procyon and big dog Sirius. Sirius outshines all other stars we see at night. In the north, the Big Dipper is higher in the sky. Leo, the Lion, rises in the east. These stars, along with Arcturus, announce the coming spring. Mars now rises in late evening.

This month, Jupiter remains well placed for evening observing all winter and spring. Look for it almost overhead at dusk and high in the west later in the evening.

Mars remains in the morning sky. It continues to brighten a bit in the south at dawn. Later in March, it also begins rising in late evening (9:30 p.m. on March 5; 8:20 p.m. on March 31)

Saturn remains in the pre-dawn sky. Face south immediately before sunup to see it.

Venus has now entered the morning sky. Look southeast at dawn for the brightest point of light there; only the Sun and Moon outshine Venus. Venus remains a morning star for almost all of 2014.

Brilliant winter stars shift toward the southwest during March. Dazzling Orion is almost due south at dusk. His three-starred belt is halfway between reddish Betelgeuse and bluish Rigel. Orion’s belt points up to Aldebaran in Taurus the Bull. This winter and spring, the Bull also contains Jupiter. To Orion’s upper left are the twin stars Castor and Pollux, marking the heads of Gemini, the Twins. You can find Sirius, the brightest star we ever see at night, by drawing a line from Orion’s belt towards the horizon. To Orion’s left, about level with Betelgeuse, is Procyon, the Little Dog Star.

From Sirius, look a little bit to the right and then straight down to the horizon. If your southern horizon is clear of clouds and tall earthly obstacles, you’ll see Canopus, the second brightest star ever visible at night. This star is so far south that most Americans never see it, and many star maps made in the USA omit it. (You must be south of 37 degrees north — the latitude of the USA’s Four Corners — for Canopus to rise). As you view Canopus, keep in mind that the sky we see depends on our latitude as well as on time of year and time of night.

Joining the winter stars are stars of spring rising in the east. Look for Leo the Lion at dusk. Later in the evening, extend the Big Dipper’s handle to “Arc to Arcturus“ and then “speed on to Spica;” these stars rise at about 10 p.m. in early March, but by 9 p.m. on the March 31.

Moon Phases in March 2014:
New:
March 1, 2:02 a.m.; March 30, 1:47 p.m.
1st Quarter: March 8, 7:26 a.m.
Full: March 16, 12:10 p.m.
Last Quarter: March 23, 8:47 p.m.

Sun., Mar. 9, is the second Sunday of the month. Accordingly, Daylight Saving Time begins at 2 am that morning. (The time goes from 1:59:59 to 3:00:00, with the 2 a.m. hour skipped.) Don’t forget to set your clocks forward one hour!

At 11:57 am on Thurs., Mar. 20, the Sun is directly overhead at the equator. That makes this the vernal equinox, one of two days when everyone on the planet has the same amount of daylight. Many consider this the ‘official’ start of spring. That’s because for us, days have been lengthening, with the Sun slightly higher in the sky each day, from December until now. After March 20, days continue to lengthen, making day longer than night. In the Southern Hemisphere, their long summer days have been shortening until now, with the Sun lower in the sky each day. After March 20, they continue to shorten, making day shorter than night. For them, then, this is the autumnal equinox.

On most clear Saturday nights at the George Observatory, you can hear me do live star tours on the observation deck with a green laser pointer. If you’re there, listen for my announcement.

Clear Skies!

(Click here for the HMNS Planetarium Schedule)

Go Stargazing! November Edition

Jupiter is up virtually all night long as November begins.  

Hubble Images Suggest Rogue Asteroid Smacked Jupiter
Creative Commons License photo credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video

That’s because on Friday night, October 28, Earth passed between the Sun and Jupiter.  In this alignment (‘opposition’) Jupiter rose at dusk and set at dawn.   Face east at dusk and look for the brightest thing there—that’ll be Jupiter.   For the first half of the month, Jupiter does not set until after 5am. 

Venus has begun to emerge from the Sun’s glare.  Look for it low in the southwest in twilight. (Venus is slightly higher in the twilight sky each night this month). This is the beginning of Venus’ apparition as evening star; it gets higher and easier to see for the rest of this year and is spectacular for about the first half of 2012.  For more of a challenge, try to find Mercury under Venus during the first half of the month, as they both set in twilight.

Mars is now high in the east-southeast at dawn.  It now approaches the first magnitude star Regulus in Leo.

Saturn emerges from behind the Sun into the morning sky this month.  Look low in the southeast at dawn, near the star Spica.  (From the Big Dipper’s handle, arc to Arcturus and speed on to Spica).  

The Summer Triangle is high in the west as Sagittarius, the Archer, sets in the southwest.

 As the stars of summer shift to the west, those of autumn fill the sky.   Watch for the Great Square of Pegasus high in the east now and almost overhead at dusk by Thanksgiving.  Pegasus is one of several patterns which depict characters in a single Greek myth (later made into two movies called ‘Clash of the Titans’).  The story begins with Cassiopeia, a queen of Ethiopia who offended the gods by comparing her beauty to that of the Nereids (sea nymphs).  To punish Cassiopeia, the sea god Poseidon sent a giant sea monster, Cetus, to ravage Ethiopian shores.  Cassiopeia’s husband, King Cepheus consulted an oracle and learned that the only way to appease Poseidon was to sacrifice their only daughter, Andromeda, to Cetus.  Andromeda was chained to a rock as everyone waited for Cepheus to come and feed.  However, at just the right moment, the hero Perseus came by.  He had just won great fame by killing Medusa, a woman so hideous that anyone who looked at her turned to stone.  Upon Medusa’s death, the winged horse Pegasus sprang fully formed from her blood, and flew away.  On his way home from that adventure Perseus (flying on winged sandals loaned from Hermes) passed by Ethiopia.  As Cetus rose from the waters to claim his prize, Perseus slew him, saved Andromeda, and married her.  They lived happily ever after. 

Star Cloud Over Saskatchewan.jpg
Creative Commons License photo credit: Space Ritual

In the sky, she is always across the North Star from the Big Dipper. 

In late autumn, as the Big Dipper hugs the horizon and actually sets for us in Houston, Cassiopeia is high in the north, looking like an ‘M’.  In the sky, Cetus swims the very dim region of sky to the south, under Pegasus and Pisces.  Cepheus stands next to his wife in the northern sky, a little to her left as you face north tonight.  Andromeda’s head is Alpheratz, the northeastern star in the Great Square of Pegasus.  From Alpheratz, a curve of stars similar in brightness to Alpheratz and the rest of the Great Square forms her body.  That same curve leads to Perseus in the northeast.
  

Moon Phases in November 2011:
First Quarter November 2, 11:28 am
Full November 10, 2:17 pm
Last Quarter September 20, 8:39 am
Full November 25, 12:10 am

By the way, on most clear Saturday nights at the George Observatory, you can hear me do live star tours on the observation deck with a green laser pointer. If you’re there, listen for my announcement.