Comet PanSTARRS is fading as it crosses Andromeda near the Great Square of Pegasus. It's still in evening twilight for mid-northern latitudes, but the farther north you are, the darker a sky you can view it in now — or photograph it in! A map is on the March Sky & Telescope, pages 50 and 51. Bring binoculars or better, a wide-field telescope. See updates at SkyandTelescope.com/panstarrs.
Friday, March 22
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Wednesday, March 27
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Friday, March 29
Saturday, March 30
Want to become a better amateur astronomer? Learn your way around the constellations. They're the key to locating everything fainter and deeper to hunt with binoculars or a telescope.
For an easy-to-use constellation guide covering the whole evening sky, use the big monthly map in the center of each issue of Sky & Telescope, the essential guide to astronomy. Or download our free Getting Started in Astronomy booklet (which only has bimonthly maps).
Once you get a telescope, to put it to good use you'll need a detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of charts). The standards are the little Pocket Sky Atlas, which shows stars to magnitude 7.6; the larger and deeper Sky Atlas 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 8.5); and the even larger Uranometria 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 9.75). And read how to use sky charts with a telescope effectively.
You'll also want a good deep-sky guidebook, such as Sue French's Deep-Sky Wonders collection (which includes its own charts), Sky Atlas 2000.0 Companion by Strong and Sinnott, the bigger Night Sky Observer's Guide by Kepple and Sanner, or the beloved if dated Burnham's Celestial Handbook.
Can a computerized telescope replace charts? Not for beginners, I don't think, and not on mounts and tripods that are less than top-quality mechanically (able to point with better than 0.2° repeatability). As Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer say in their invaluable Backyard Astronomer's Guide, "A full appreciation of the universe cannot come without developing the skills to find things in the sky and understanding how the sky works. This knowledge comes only by spending time under the stars with star maps in hand."
This Week's Planet Roundup
Mercury (brightening from magnitude +0.6 to +0.2 this week) is having a poor apparition very low in the dawn. Use binoculars to scan for it just above the east-southeast horizon about 30 minutes before sunrise.
Venus and Mars are lost in the glare of the Sun.
Jupiter (magnitude –2.1, in Taurus) comes into view high in the west after sunset, then descends as night grows late. Lower left of Jupiter is orange Aldebaran. Farther to Jupiter's lower right are the Pleiades. They all set in the west-northwest around the middle of the night.
Jupiter is not as bright as it used to be, and in a telescope it has shrunk to 36 arcseconds wide – from 48″ around its opposition last December.
Saturn (magnitude +0.3, in Libra) rises in the east-southeast only about an hour after the end of twilight now. Watch for it to make its appearance well to the lower left of Spica, and farther to the lower right of brighter Arcturus. Saturn shines highest in the south around 3 a.m. daylight saving time — more or less between Spica to its right, and Delta Scorpii and than Antares farther to its lower left. Saturn will come to opposition on the night of April 27th.
Uranus and Neptune are out of sight in the glare of the Sun.
All descriptions that relate to your horizon — including the words up, down, right, and left — are written for the world's mid-northern latitudes. Descriptions that also depend on longitude (mainly Moon positions) are for North America. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) equals Universal Time (also known as UT, UTC, or GMT) minus 4 hours.
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