Hey, Sky Fans!
Things are a mess these days, and I have to confess, I feel a bit more anxious and exhausted about things than I think that exclamation point lets on. It’s a nervous time, and lots of things have been canceled. Little by little, we’ll get through this, I promise.
One thing that hasn’t been canceled is lookin’ up! The skies might not be as clear or as dark as we’d like, but they’re there. And they’re calling. Maybe take a few minutes over the next few days and have a look. They won’t let you down. I’ll be outside, too (not… no, like… not in the creepy way).
Here’s a few things we can look for in the evening skies over the next few nights. Some of these are familiar, old friends, but it’s good to check in on loved ones, and they’re gazillions of miles away, so the social distancing will be easy.
- Venus! Seriously, have you had a chance to check in at the second rock — the “It Burns! It Burns! It Burns!” one — lately? Just look to the west after sundown and, it’s okay, gawk a little. Gawk a lot. It’s gorgeous, stunning, and crazy bright. Around where I live, it doesn’t set until after 9:00 so you’ll have plenty of time to check it out. Try to imagine what it was like ages ago, when the ancients saw it, named it after the Roman goddess of love and beauty, and then there was the Bananarama song (yes, yes, I know it was a Shocking Blue cover).
- The Pleiades and Hyades! While we’re out west, let’s check in on our old friends the Pleiades and Hyades. They’re two of the closest star clusters to Earth, and you can see them without any tools. That said, if you have a pair of binoculars, they’re amazing. I posted about this the other day, but, keep an eye on this chunk of sky for a while. As we move through the middle of the month and March becomes April, Venus and the Pleaides will team up and use their superpowers to give us a gorgeous show. So, watch this space (huzzah!) as they move closer and closer! Hey, no reason not to reuse this drawing.
- The Big Dipper/Plough! Everyone loves this chunk of the Great Bear, and one of the tons of things to love is that it’s in the sky every night of the year for most of the northern hemisphere. So, no matter what, you can always find it. After you’ve finished with the clusters in the southwest, turn to the northeast and look for. These days, it’s hanging upside down in mid-evening, like a giant question mark. It’s almost like the sky is asking Cassiopeia Polaris?
- Arcturus! Quick, what’s the only constellation with an umlaut in its name? Boötes, the herdsman is a little tough to see under light-polluted skies. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen its famous “kite” asterism. Its brightest star, Arcturus, a red giant about 35 light years away, is one of my favorites. It’s… well… red and and it’s really bright: the fourth brightest in the night sky, and the second brightest visible in most of the northern hemisphere. It’s really a stunning sight this part of the year, and it’s ready for prime viewing by mid-evening. You need to be up a bit late for this, but to find it, just follow the curve of the Big Dipper’s handle toward the east, and, as the old saying goes, “arc to Arcturus.”
- The Moon! Our nearest neighbor’s on the overnight shift these days, and doesn’t rise until ten or eleven o’clock. But, it’s a waning gibbous, with last quarter on Monday March 16. Don’t let that stop you, though. The Moon’s waning phases are fun and a little unsettling to watch; backward from what you’re probably used to, and really worth waiting up for, espcially if you’re already waiting up late for Arcturus.
That’s all for now, folks. Be safe and be healthy; we need you.
Clear skies, everyone!