Friday, March 2
Saturday, March 3
Sunday, March 4
Monday, March 5
Tuesday, March 6
Wednesday, March 7
Thursday, March 8
Friday, March 9
And, you may know that if you follow the curve of the Dipper's handle out and around by a little more than a Dipper length, you'll arc to Arcturus (now rising in the east).
But did you know that if you follow the Pointers backward the opposite way, you'll land in Leo?
Draw a line diagonally across the Dipper's bowl from where the handle is attached, continue on, and you'll go to Gemini.
And look at the two stars forming the open top of the Dipper's bowl. Follow this line past the bowl's lip far across the sky, and you crash into Capella.
Saturday, March 10
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 magazine of 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 effectively.
You'll also want a good deep-sky guidebook, such as Sue French's new 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 classic if dated Burnham's Celestial Handbook.
Can a computerized telescope replace charts? I don't think so — not for beginners, anyway, and especially not on mounts and tripods are less than top-quality mechanically (able to point with better than 0.3° repeatability). As Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer say in their 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 (about magnitude –0.8) is having its best evening apparition of 2012. As the afterglow of sunset fades in the west, look near the horizon for Mercury far below and perhaps a bit right of bright Venus and Jupiter.
Venus and Jupiter (magnitudes –4.3 and –2.2) are the two bright “Evening Stars” shining in the southwest to west during and after dusk. Venus is the brighter, lower one. Watch Jupiter closing in on it by about 1° every day! The gap between them narrows this week from 10° to just 4°. These are the two brightest celestial objects after the Sun and Moon. To Jupiter's right are the stars of Aries.
In a telescope, Venus is a brilliant white gibbous disk 19 arcseconds tall and 62% sunlit. Jupiter shows a much lower surface brightness, being farther from the Sun, but its apparent diameter is almost twice as great: 36 arcseconds.
Mars (magnitude –1.2, in Leo) is at opposition March 3rd and nearest Earth on March 5th. It shines bright fire-orange low in the east during twilight and dominates the eastern sky after dark. Regulus twinkles about 12° to its upper right. Mars shines highest in the south, in the sharpest telescopic view, around midnight.
Saturn (magnitude +0.4, in Virgo) rises in the east around 9 or 10 p.m. and shines highest in the south around 3 a.m. Accompanying it is Spica, 7° to Saturn's right or upper right and a little fainter at magnitude +1.0. In a telescope Saturn's rings are tilted 15° from our line of sight, their most open since 2007.
Uranus and Neptune are hidden behind 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 Standard Time (EST) equals Universal Time (also known as UT, UTC, or GMT) minus 5 hours.
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