Hey, Sky Fans! Happy Monday, and, here comes your fifty-cent word for the day, a happy anthropocentric 236th birthday to the planet Uranus, which William Herschel first spotted through his telescope on March 13, 1781. I wonder if he went by Bill, or Will, or maybe Billy. Either way, Uranus was the first planet discovered with a telescope, rather than just by looking up.
I hope you had a great weekend. Did you get a load of that full Moon last night? It was a gorgeous sight rising up over the hillside near my house as I drove home for a late-ish trip to the diner with the kids for some dessert before this big storm hits tomorrow. Their lemon meringue is top notch. Wait… what, oh, right, that my post for Scott’s Pie Watch.
I have this very strong memory, quickly moving farther and farther into the distant and darkened corners of my mind. I was sitting on a squeaky swing in the back yard of a friend’s house on a warm night, talking about whatever 12-year olds (or thereabouts) talk about, and rolling a baseball around in my hands. It was one of those decades-and-decades old ubiquitous backyard swing sets, made of, I suppose, stainful steel, the kind that rusted if you looked at them and thought about water at the same time, which made suburbia suburbia. I don’t really know about kids from the rest of the country, but my childhood wouldn’t have been the same without them, as I look back fondly on narrowly avoided tetanus shots.
This was 1980s Long Island; all the houses were the same, there were no hills to speak of, and the skies were only dark enough to see a couple dozen of the brightest stars set against a dusty gray, never black. I grew up with an airfield in one direction, and a couple of shopping malls and a pulsating metropolis in the other.
Still, as we talked, the moon rose over the split-levels across the street, big and bright. Along with it was a bright light, which I found out later, using such exciting tools as a planisphere and a… wait for it… newspaper, was the planet Jupiter. That was one of those moments when a little piece of the bigger puzzle clicked into place. I was looking not just at the moon or some far-off star, but also at another planet. The big research was already done for me, but there was the science, right in front of my eyes.
It’s times like this week that I get a taste of that moment. Jupiter has rejoined the night, just as Venus gets ready to leave it, and this week it’s teaming up with the Moon to make the eastern skies something special.
Last night’s full moon wasn’t far away, but as the week goes on, we’ll see it wane and meet up with Jupiter again. Tonight, March 13, figure around 11:00, head out and look to the east. The moon, Jupiter and Arcturus, one of my favorite stars, will be in a broad, sort of upside-down triangle, rising into tomorrow. The bright star, Spica, one of the springiest of springtime stars, in the constellation Virgo, is nearby.
Then, tomorrow night, the 14th, if your skies are clear (mine will be very, very snowy), head outside and look to the east. You’ll see Mr. Big still near Spica. For my pie… er…sky watching dime, this is the best night of the bunch. The moon will turn the pair into a compact isosceles triangle.
That triangle will stretch out over the next couple of nights as the moon moves into the early morning shift. Overnight on Thursday the 16th and into Friday, the 17th, the moon will sit right between the two fairly bright stars in Libra, the scales, Zubenelgenubi, and Zubenelschamali (I always think of Laverne & Shirley when I say that star’s name), whose names mean southern and northern claw, respectively. What? Your scale doesn’t have claws?
We’re expecting quite a lot of snow around here, so I don’t think I’ll get to see it. I hope you can, though. Enjoy it, be safe, and clear skies, everyone!