By Alice Enevoldsen
Special to West Seattle Blog
Well, that was a lovely conjunction of Mars and Venus we had last month, wasn’t it? This month continues to have beautiful planets in the sky, followed by an Equinox Sunset Watch and warming temperatures for pleasant evening stargazing.
HEY, WHAT’S THAT?
There are too many “Hey, What’s That?” options this month! You’re going to have to know which direction you’re facing, and what time of day as well.
Starting with the early pre-dawn sky for early commuters and folks on the night shift, look high in the sky. The two objects are the star Spica and the planet Saturn. Which is which? Stars twinkle, planets don’t.
Evening viewers are probably noticing Venus or Jupiter. You can’t miss them, except due to clouds or trees. Low in the West following the sunset is Venus. Jupiter is behind you when you look at Venus, halfway up the sky in the Northeast.
Did you see something else? We’ve got five or six particularly bright stars in the winter skies. Just like above, if it twinkles it is a star.
NOTABLE IN THE SKY
Of things you should write on your calendar, the most exciting is next month’s lunar eclipse on April 4th. It’s a morning eclipse, on a Saturday. It’ll make for some pretty photos setting, red, over the Olympics if the weather cooperates, but it does involve getting up early. I recommend enjoying it, then a nice breakfast and back to bed for a leisurely weekend morning nap.
I love looking at the sky with you, and I’ve spent a lot of time learning its patterns and identifying objects. That’s why I have the “Hey what’s that?” section above — hearing your short descriptions and figuring out what you saw is fun.
If you call me with a UFO sighting, I’m the person who is going to try to figure out which object it is in the sky. I’m not the person who is going to tell you that you found aliens. I’ll break down the way I help you identify the object into a flow chart.
Is it moving?
a. No (or maybe, but so slowly that you can only tell it moved if you check back in on it 30 minutes later)
i. Is it twinkling, blinking, or flashing different colors?
1. Yes: it’s a star
2. No: it’s a planet or possibly a comet if there’s a good comet visible that day. It might also be a deep sky object, but those are usually noticed by amateur astronomers.
i. Did it go by fast and now it is gone?
1. That was a meteor, a shooting star — yes, even if it was green or exploded.
i. Occasionally these are satellites or space junk reentering our atmosphere, but those often last a little bit longer and or move more slowly across the sky than meteors.
ii. Did it travel quickly across the sky? Did it disappear only as it went behind a cloud or over the horizon?
iii. Did it move sedately across the sky, steadily and not exactly “slow” but not really “fast” either?
1. A satellite in orbit around the Earth. The space station and rockets are both satellites in this sense.
iv. Was it moving oddly? Like you really have no idea or can’t describe it? These are the things that do that:
1. Sky Lantern or other balloon-type object
3. Goodyear blimp
Of course I don’t know all the answers*, and of course I didn’t see what you saw, but the list of objects above have been the answer to 100% of the “Hey, what’s that?” questions I’ve gotten over the years, so it’s a pretty solid checklist.
Sunday, March 8th — Daylight Saving Time began. (Did you set your clock forward?) The astronomer’s view of daylight savings is simple: “Argh.” We should all just use standard Universal Time, no more time zones, no more daylight savings. Makes the math much easier, but I don’t think we astronomers are going to win this one.
Friday, March 20th, 3:45 pm — Spring Equinox moment
Friday, March 20th, 6:55 pm-7:55 pm — Come and watch the Spring Equinox sunset with me at Solstice Park across from Lincoln Park. The sunset itself will be around 7:10 pm. Bring your children and your parents.
Friday, March 20th — Supermoon: This is a New Moon Supermoon, so there’s nothing to see.
Saturday, April 4th, 2:01 am-6:51 am — Morning Lunar Eclipse begins at 2:01 am and ends after the Moon sets. Moonset is at 6:51 am.
Did I miss something? Please add it in the comments!
March 13 — Last Quarter: The week around the last quarter moon, it is visible in the early morning sky (rising in the middle of the night, setting in the early afternoon).
March 20 — New Moon: The day of the new moon you won’t see the Moon at all, but a day or so before or after you might see a tiny sliver of a crescent Moon as the Sun rises or sets, and a few more days out you can see the crescent Moon all day long.
March 27 — First Quarter: The first quarter moon is ideal for late afternoon and early evening observation (rising in the early afternoon, setting in the middle of the night).
April 4 — Full Moon: The full moon rises at sunset, sets at sunrise, and is visible all night.
Stellarium: Free planetarium software for your home computer. Bring up the sky for anywhere in the world – any time and date in history, or the future.
Clear Sky Chart: The astronomer’s forecast for the next couple days. Cloud cover, darkness, and “seeing” which is how nice it is to view the stars, all on one handy chart.
USNO: Dates and times of astronomical happenings.
* P.S. Yes, I certainly do hope there are Vulcans out there somewhere, and I expect there is alien life elsewhere in the Universe. Unfortunately, my understanding of physics says that we’ll never meet alien beings because the distances are much too large. Live Long and Prosper, everyone.
WHO IS ALICE?
Alice is many things and works and volunteers for a few different notable organizations, but the suggestions and opinions put forth in this article are her own and no-one else’s. You can find more about astronomy at alicesastroinfo.com.