Stellar Vista Observatory Sky Report: March 29 – April 4

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].

This remains true for at least a month: There are three planets out tonight, Mars after sunset and Jupiter and Saturn before sunrise.

Look for Mars halfway up the western sky as the sky is growing dark. It’s 10 degrees – the width of your fist held at arm’s length – directly above the star Aldebaran in Taurus the Bull. Both are orange, but their color is not immediately obvious. Twice that distance straight to the left of Mars is Betelgeuse, in Orion, another orange star. Other stars in Orion are white or blue-white, and you’ll notice the contrast if you look closely and especially if you use a telescope or binoculars.

Orange stars are cool, comparatively, while white stars are hot and blue-white stars are hottest of all. The color of our sun? White – not yellow as often thought. Mars’s color comes from oxidized minerals in the soil and has nothing to do with its temperature, which is definitely cold.

Jupiter and Saturn rise during morning twilight and are 10 or so degrees high in the southeast when the last stars fade from view. Jupiter is brighter than any star but Saturn, 12 degrees to the upper right of Jupiter, is much fainter. Our moon joins them on the mornings of April 5-7.

Returning to the evening, you see constellations of both the winter and spring sky. The constellations of the “seasonal” sky are those you see in the early evening that season, and since there are four seasons in a year, one-quarter of the constellations correspond to that season. But you see half the sky at a time, so inevitably you see constellations of two seasons, and if you look later tonight you see constellations of summer – a third season. Major constellations of the winter are Orion, the two dogs, and Taurus. They’re in the south and west, while constellations of the spring sky include Leo and Ursa Major, the Big Dipper, in the east and northeast.

The best way to learn the constellations is to have a friend who knows them point them out to you. The second best way is get a stargazing app for your smartphone or tablet, set it to your location and date, and start with something familiar – Orion’s belt or the Big Dipper – and go from there. I recommend SkySafari but there are many others, and they even show the planets.

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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