I stumbled across an innocuous piece of information this time last year – I don’t know if it’s an apocryphal source for a more common saying?  A coincidence? But it’s cool… However, hold that thought, I’ll get to it.

First, interesting things THIS WEEK:

Venus Mercury Conjunction, 180303

Venus and Mercury pair up after sunset on 3/3/18.  (via Stellarium)

1) As I mentioned, Venus is making its way back into the western (after sunset) sky. It’s still low, but there, and getting higher every day. On Saturday, March 3, the sharp-eyed among us (perhaps with binoculars) will be able to spot Venus and Mercury in conjunction, with only a half the width of an outstretched finger (about 1 degree) between them. You won’t have long after sunset to catch the pair before they set, but both should be bright enough to resolve in the orange glow after the sun has gone. 

2) The Moon is full on March 1 – which means we went the whole month of February without a full Moon! And just like in January, we’ll have another full Moon on March 31. Blue Moons aren’t looking so rare anymore, are they?
This Moon will be the Full Worm Moon (softening ground causing the emergence of earthworms and return of robins), the Full Crow Moon (cawing crows signaling the end of winter), or the Full Crust Moon (nightly freeze and thaw on snow cover giving snow a crusty top layer), depending on how far north you live.

Now, to slower, more gradual happenings.

Everybody in the northern hemisphere is familiar with the Big Dipper asterism. Not everybody knows that it is part of a large constellation, Ursa Major, representing the Great Bear. (I’ve always wondered about this – my inclination is to see the handle of the Dipper as the Bear’s tail, and bears just don’t have tails like that. Also, what’s with the pointy nose? Isn’t this actually the Great Anteater?)

Ursa Major

Spring begins with the Great Bear climbing out of his winter den at sunset.  (via Stellarium)

This time of year, right after sunset, the Great Bear is standing nose up. He’s climbing up out of his winter’s den – a sure sign that spring is on its way.

In another sign, many know that a line through the outermost pair of stars on the Dipper points to Polaris, the North Star (a very useful trick to know). But fewer know that if you use the OTHER side of the dipper, and follow the line made by those stars in the OPPOSITE direction, you’ll find Regulus, in Leo.

Polaris, Regulus

Finding Polaris and Regulus from the Big Dipper

Leo is also rising, right after sunset. The backward question mark rising above Regulus, known as the “Sickle”, marks the curve of Leo’s regal mane, as he crouches, Sphinx-like, facing up and right. His rear haunches are a neat right triangle just above the horizon after sunset.

Leo rising just after sunset in early March. (via Stellarium)

All the way across the sky, about thirty degrees off the western horizon, you’ll find Aries, the Ram/Sheep. Aries isn’t much to look at, really just a trio of stars sitting west of Taurus and the Pleiades, and east of the even dimmer “V” making up the rope tying Pisces’ fish together. So, why is it important now? Well, it’s 30 degrees off the horizon – or about one month of movement before it is ON the horizon at sunset, and setting at the beginning of April.

Aries is subtle, just east of more prominent Taurus and Orion.  (via Stellarium)

The result — March is coming in WITH a lion, and out WITH a lamb.

Get Out There!


5 thoughts on “Lions, Planets and Bears (Astronomy: Week of 2/25/18)

  1. I was pleasantly surprised a few weeks ago when I looked up after midnight to see Leo. It seemed like just yesterday it had been lost behind the Sun’s glare, but I guess that was already way back in the Fall. The nice thing about our sky is that nothing is lost for very long around the Sun, bound to appear in mornings again soon.

    Liked by 1 person

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