(magnitude -4) will continue to be the bright morning star close to the
eastern horizon during March. With a little luck, you’ll be able
to see Mercury between Venus and the rising sun. Look for both
planets around 6 a.m.
you’re up that early, you can also look for Saturn and Mars flanking
the Moon. Saturn will be on the left of the moon, and Mars is the
reddish object on the right. Don’t confuse Mars with the
red star Antares that is between the moon and the horizon.
(+0.3) is brighter than Antares (+1.0), but they’re still easy to get
confused. Apparently, ancient astronomers had some problems
confusing the two -- Antares means “rival of Mars.”
will rise at about 6:30 p.m. on March 1. At magnitude -2.5, it
will look like a very bright star on the eastern horizon. If you view
it with a pair of binoculars or a telescope, you should be able to see
its bands. On a good night, you might spot several of its larger moons.
large white disk, above, is an overexposed Jupiter. The smaller
ones are four of Jupiter’s moons -- Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto
(in the lower right corner). They are called the Galilean satellites to
honor Galileo who first observed them in 1610.
9 will be the best night of the year to view or photograph
Jupiter. It will be at its closest point to the Earth and fully
illuminated by the sun. Its famous red spot will be visible after
the hunter, continues to be the most prominent constellation in the
southern skies. M42, the Orion Nebula, surrounds the second star
in the sword. That’s not the only nebula in the Orion
Constellation. The first star in his belt is surrounded by two other
famous nebulae, the Flame Nebula and the Horse Head Nebula. Neither one
is visible by the unaided eye. They are both difficult to view through
a telescope, but I find it extremely rewarding to get a good glimpse of
you have access to a good telescope on a computer guided mount, you
might want to try and do a Messier Marathon on March 12. There
are 110 deep sky objects in the Messier catalog, and you might be able
to see all of them that night. To pull this trick off, you need
to start as early as possible with objects nearest the western
horizon. Then, progress through the list when M30 will rise in
the east just after 6 a.m.
I started the month getting this great shot of the Orion Nebula (M42).
people think I’m fixated on photographing M42, and I guess they’re
right. In my defense, M42 simply is one of the best deep space
objects out there for viewing or photographing over and over. Located
in the sword of the constellation Orion, it’s very easy to find. M42 is
bright enough that you can see it with your naked eye! I’ve
probably taken more than 100 shots of it, and I still know there’s room
for improvement. I love the delicate, wispy details that I
can make out in this shot. Hopefully, the next image I take will
show even more detail.
spent a fair amount of time imaging Jupiter, and getting a great shot
has turned out to be a real learning experience. The turbulence
of the earth’s atmosphere is one of my biggest problems when imaging
planets. Some nights, the image literally dances around on the
screen. To compensate for that, you shoot a long series of very
short exposures and then process them using computer software.
This is one of the best shots I’ve gotten to date.
This is still a work in progress, so I hope to have some better images in the near future.
- New moon: March 8
- First quarter: March 15
- Full moon: March 23
- Last quarter: March 31
magnitude of an object is a scale of how bright an object appears in
the sky. At -26.75, the sun is the brightest object in the
sky. The full moon has a magnitude of -13.
Intuitively, you might see something wrong with the scale. First,
it seems to go backwards, since brighter objects have smaller negative
magnitudes, and the sun is about 400,000 times as bright as the moon
but only double its magnitude.
problems stem from the original system that tried to classify the
apparent size of stars. The system was created by the ancient
Greeks. It consisted of six classes of stars, based upon the
apparent size of the stars. So the biggest and brightest stars were
first class and the smallest, dimmest were sixth class. The sun
and moon were not included in the system.
1856, Norman Pogson modernized the system to its current logarithmic
scale that is based upon the brightness of the star. To compute the
magnitude of any star, you need to compare its brightness against a
baseline star. Vega is that baseline star, and its magnitude is defined
as 0. Using Vega as the baseline gave Sirius, the brightest star
in the night sky, a magnitude -1.46. When the sun and moon were
included in this modern scale, they kind of fell off the chart and
ended up in the negative range!
human eye can see objects out to about magnitude 6.0 in very dark,
clear skies. If you are viewing the stars from your backyard or porch
anywhere on Hatteras Island, the odds are you are not experiencing
“very dark skies.” The house lights, security lights, and
business lights are all forms of light pollution that reduce the
splendor of the night skies, so you are probably limited to seeing
you can make a short trip to Ramp 27 or 30, between Salvo and Avon, and
get away from much of the light pollution of the villages. If you
give your eyes about 15 to 20 minutes to adjust to the darkness, you
will be amazed at how bright the night skies can be.
March 8 will be a new moon so it will be your best chance to go out and appreciate the stars.
Lebing is a retired computer scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey
in Washington, D.C. He has visited Hatteras Island since the
mid-1970s. He and his wife, Karen, have owned property here for several
years and moved to their home in Waves full-time in 2013.
Astronomy is a subject that Gerry says he has always been interested in
and one that he pursues seriously -- he's built an small observatory
next to his house. You can send him questions about the night sky
through e-mail, [email protected].)