Stellar Vista Observatory Sky Report: March 1-7

Stock image, St. George News

SOUTHERN UTAH — The Sky Report is presented as a public service by the Stellar Vista Observatory, a nonprofit organization based in Kanab, Utah, which provides opportunities for people to observe, appreciate and comprehend our starry night sky. Additional information is available online. Send questions and comments to [email protected].

Mars remains the sole planet in the evening sky. It’s in the news as craft from several countries go into orbit around it and land on its surface, and you can see Mars as one of the brighter “stars” high in the southwest as darkness falls. A short distance to the left, or east, of Mars is an orange star that is equally bright – Aldebaran, in Taurus. Mars is approaching Aldebaran, and they’ll be closest in a few weeks.

En route to Aldebaran, Mars passes between two pretty star clusters – the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, on the right and the Hyades on the left. Mars is closest to the Pleaides on Tuesday night, when they’re separated by 2 2/3 degrees and a pretty sight in binoculars, but they’ll be close enough to see together in binoculars until roughly March 11 depending on your binoculars’ field of view. It’s a good photo op for people with a telephoto lens that tracks the stars. The cluster to left of Mars is the Hyades, which is larger and closer. Mars is directly between them on Sunday, but it’s broadly between them all week. Aldebaran is in front of the Hyades and not part of them.

Turning to the morning sky, Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn rise before the sun, but they’re so low in morning twilight that you’ll need binoculars to see them. It would be worth the effort as Mercury passes very close to Jupiter from about Tuesday through Sunday with the closest approach on Friday, when they’re a scant half-degree apart. Mercury is one-fifth as bright as Jupiter.

Saturn is 9 degrees to the right of Jupiter but it’s only one-twelfth as bright. Look a half hour before sunrise; you’ll need an absolutely flat eastern horizon. As I always insist, every amateur stargazer needs a pair of binoculars. I recommend 7X50, and you can find a decent pair for under $50.

While looking for the planets on Friday morning, notice the bright orange star less than 5 degrees below the moon; that’s Antares in Scorpius. Scorpius is very much a summer constellation. Although we’re still officially in winter, you see stars of the coming seasons late at night. Jupiter and Saturn are in the morning sky now, but they’ll be in the evening sky this coming summer.

Written by JOHN MOSLEY. John Mosley was program supervisor of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles for 27 years and is the author of “Stargazing for Beginners” and “Stargazing with Binoculars and Telescopes”. He and his wife live in St. George where he continues to stargaze from his retirement home while serving on the advisory committee for Stellar Vista Observatory.

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