Hey, Sky Fans!
Tonight’s the last night of winter!
Spring starts tomorrow morning at around 5:37am when we reach March’s equinox. For winter’s last night, we’re in for a big treat. Tonight in the southwest, we get a great view of the crescent Moon and Mars and two of the sky’s closest star clusters: the V-Shaped Hyades, and the Dipper-shaped Pleiades. We’ve seen this bunch before, but here’s another chance to really look at them again. With winter going, their time with us is short.
To help you out, here’s a quick photo from…. the future!
But check this out, we can play “Near, Far, Very far!” The night looks like a flat sheet, but it’s not. It’s got depth and dimension.
The Moon is the closest thing to us, about 239,000 miles away. So, that means its light took about a second and a half to travel from it to your eye. In other words, the Moon you see is the Moon of a second and a half ago; it’s 1.5 light *seconds* away.
Mars, and all its robots, is about 14 light minutes away. That’s about 150 million miles behind the Moon. Can you imagine it?
Next, we get to Aldebaran, the bright red star at the top of the Hyades. It’s about 65 light years away. So, the light you see from it left it around when some of today’s retirees were born. But, it’s not part of the cluster; it’s about half way between us and it. It just happens to be along our line of sight. The cluster is about another 90 light years behind Aldebaran. The light from the cluster left for your eye in the 1870s, not long after the Civil War ended.
And the Pleiades? They’re another 300 light years away, still. Their light started across that enormous emptiness 40 years before the pilgrims reached Plymouth, and somehow managed to not get blocked by anything along the way to you.All that way?
It’d be a shame to not have a look. I hope you will.
Have a great weekend, happy spring, and clear skies, everyone!