The supernova in M82 is still hanging in. Six week after its outburst began, it's still about visual magnitude 11.7. And it's reddening. Take another look while the evening sky is still moonless. See our updated article.
Friday, February 28
When to look? Canopus is due south when Beta Canis Majoris — Murzim, the star a few finger-widths to the right of Sirius — is at its highest point due south. Look straight down from Murzim then.
Saturday, March 1
Sunday, March 2
Monday, March 3
Tuesday, March 4
Wednesday, March 5
Thursday, March 6
Friday, March 7
Saturday, March 8
Want to become a better astronomer? Learn your way around the constellations. They're the key to locating everything fainter and deeper to hunt with binoculars or a telescope.
This is an outdoor nature hobby. 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 once you know your way around, the even larger Uranometria 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 9.75). And read how to use sky charts with a telescope.
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, which means fairly heavy and expensive). 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 +0.8 to +0.3 this week) glimmers low above the east-southeast horizon during dawn. Look for it far lower left of Venus.
Venus (magnitude –4.8) blazes as the "Morning Star" before and during dawn; look southeast. A small telescope shows that it's a thickening crescent.
Mars (magnitude –0.5, in Virgo) rises around 9 or 10 p.m., a fiery blaze 6° to the left of icy Spica. The two of them are highest in the south around 2 or 3 a.m., with Spica now lower right of Mars.
In a telescope Mars has grown to about 12 arcseconds wide, on its way to an apparent diameter of 15.1″ when it passes closest by Earth in mid-April. See the telescopic Mars map and observing guide in the March Sky & Telescope, page 50.
Jupiter (magnitude –2.4, in Gemini) dominates the high south during evening. No other point in the evening sky is so bright. See our articles on observing Jupiter in the January Sky & Telescope or the briefer online introduction Jupiter: Big, Bright, and Beautiful.
Saturn (magnitude +0.5, in Libra) rises around 11 or midnight and is highest in the south before dawn. By then it's far left of Mars and Spica, and less far to the upper right of Mars-colored Antares.
Uranus sinks away in the west after dusk.
Neptune is hidden in conjunction with 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) is Universal Time (UT, UTC, or GMT) minus 5 hours.
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