Sky at a Glance | March 14th, 2014

Leo watches over as the Moon waxes to full. This is the view in early evening as the stars come out.

Friday, March 14

  • This evening, look for Regulus and the Sickle of Leo above the almost-full Moon, as shown here.

    Saturday, March 15

  • The Big Dipper glitters high in the northeast these evenings, standing on its handle. You probably know that the two stars forming the front of the Dipper's bowl (currently on top) are the Pointers; they point to Polaris, currently to their left.

    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, you'll land in Leo?

    Draw a line diagonally across the Dipper's bowl from where the handle is attached, continue far 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.

    Dawn view
    Early risers will see the waning Moon making its way past Mars and Spica in the west-southwest as dawn brightens.

    Sunday, March 16

  • Full Moon (exact at 1:08 p.m. EDT). The Moon rises around sunset and shines far below Leo in the evening, as shown above. Later in the night, look far to the Moon's lower left for Mars and fainter Spica.

    Monday, March 17

  • Once the Moon is well up in the southeast late this evening, look below it to spot bright Mars and fainter Spica. By dawn on the 18th they're off in the west-southwest.

    Tuesday, March 18

  • The Moon, Mars, and Spica form a striking triangle after they rise in the east late tonight and on into dawn on the morning of the 19th.

    The star to vanish.
    The star to vanish.
    Akira Fujii / Sky & Telescope

    Wednesday, March 19

  • Asteroid to occult Regulus. For skywatchers in the New York City region and certain areas northward, the faint asteroid 163 Erigone (eh-RIG-uh-nee) will black out 1st-magnitude Regulus for up to 14 seconds a little after 2 a.m. EDT Thursday morning. This is the best asteroid occultation ever predicted to cross such a heavily populated area.

    And, anywhere from the Carolinas to Nova Scotia to Manitoba, it's also worth watching to see if Regulus might be occulted by a yet-unknown satellite of Erigone!

    The International Occultation Timing Association is working up a big public observing campaign. See our article Regulus Occultation: Asteroid to Black Out a Bright Star, and IOTA's big public how-to site at occultations.org/Regulus2014.

    Thursday, March 20

  • Spring begins in the Northern Hemisphere, and fall in the Southern Hemisphere, at the equinox: 12:57 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (16:57 UT). This is when the Sun crosses the equator heading north for the year.

  • The waning gibbous Moon rises around 11 or midnight tonight with Saturn shining near it. They reach their highest station in the south before the beginning of dawn. Although they look paired, Saturn is 3,600 times farther away in the background.

    Friday, March 21

  • This year's huge "Winter Diamond" — bright Jupiter on top, bright Sirius on the bottom, and Procyon and Betelgeuse forming the left and right corners — persists well into spring. It stands straight up in the south around dusk, then tips westward as the evening advances.

    Saturday, March 22

  • When the stars come out this week, the Big Dipper is standing on its handle in the northeast. As evening grows late the Dipper climbs higher and starts tipping to the left.


    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).

    Pocket Sky Atlas
    The Pocket Sky Atlas plots 30,796 stars to magnitude 7.6 — which may sound like a lot, but that's less than one star in an entire telescopic field of view, on average. By comparison, Sky Atlas 2000.0 plots 81,312 stars to magnitude 8.5, typically one or two stars per telescopic field. Both atlases include many hundreds of deep-sky targets — galaxies, star clusters, and nebulae — to hunt among the stars.
    Sky & Telescope

    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

    Jupiter remains among the legs of Gemini this week. Jupiter, Procyon, and Betelgeuse form the top of this year's Winter Diamond.

    Mercury (magnitude +0.1) is low above the east-southeast horizon a half hour before sunrise. Look for it 20° lower left of bright Venus. Binoculars will help.

    Venus (magnitude –4.6) shines as the bright "Morning Star" before and during dawn; look southeast.

    Mars (magnitude –0.9, in Virgo) rises soon after dark, a fiery blaze with fainter icy Spica 5° to its right. They're highest in the south around 3 a.m.

    In a telescope Mars has grown to 13 arcseconds wide, almost as large as the 15.1″ it will attain when passing closest by Earth in mid-April. See the telescopic Mars map and observing guide in the March Sky & Telescope, page 50.

    Jupiter, magnitude –2.3 in Gemini, dominates sky overhead at dusk (for mid-northern skywatchers), then sinks westward through the late evening and early morning hours. See our articles on observing Jupiter in the January Sky & Telescope or the briefer online introduction Jupiter: Big, Bright, and Beautiful.

    Saturn (magnitude +0.3, in Libra) rises around 11 or midnight daylight saving time and is highest in the south before dawn begins. By then it's far left of Mars and Spica, and less far to the upper right of Mars-colored Antares.

    Uranus and Neptune are lost behind the glare of the Sun.


    "We may be little guys, but we don’t think small. It’s the courage of questions, of grasping our true circumstances, and not pretending we are at the center of it all, that is adulthood."
    — Ann Druyan, 2014


    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) is Universal Time (UT, UTC, or GMT) minus 4 hours.


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