Podcaster: Rob Webb
Title: Observing With Webb in March 2020
Organization: Physics teacher at Pequea Valley High School
Description: Venus still reigns over the March skies, with two conjunctions, three glorious visible planets each morning, and the astronomical start of spring.
Bio: Rob Webb is a physics, astronomy, and sustainability teacher at Pequea Valley High School in Pennsylvania. His passions include teaching, astronomy, astrophotography, planetariums, running, reading, and golf. A proud graduate of Dickinson College in 2005, he also obtained a Master’s Degree in Science Education from Penn State University after conducting research in regards to the current state of planetariums in Pennsylvania. Feel free to contact him at email@example.com
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Welcome to Observing With Webb, where a high school astronomy teacher tells you what you’re looking at, why it’s so cool, and what you should check out later this month…at night.
Venus still reigns over the March skies, with two conjunctions, three glorious visible planets each morning, and the astronomical start of spring.
First Quarter Moon – 2nd (Visible until midnight)
Full Moon – 9th (Visible all night)
Last Quarter Moon – 16th (Visible from midnight into the morning)
New Moon – 24th (darkest skies)
8th – Daylight Savings Time Begins at 2am
17th – 19th – Close Encounter – Moon, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn – Get out after 5:30am DST each morning these three mornings and enjoy, moving up and to the right, the lineup of Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars in the SE, but also enjoy the Moon joining the party. The Moon will be up and to the right of Mars on the 17th, JUST below Jupiter and Mars on the 18th, and about 6˚ down and to the left of Saturn on the 19th.
20th – Spring Equinox – Astronomically the first day of Spring, even though meteorologically Spring starts in the beginning of March. Here’s some more info. (Technically at 11:50pm EDT on the 19th, but…)
20th – Conjunction! – Jupiter & Mars – Morning sky, within 1˚, see planet info below.
27th, 28th – Close Encounter – Moon, Venus – Get out after sunset and watch the SW sky. On the 27th the Moon will be a young, thin crescent about a fist-width below bright Venus. The next night the Moon moves to about 5˚ to the left of Venus, a little thicker and higher.
31st – Conjunction! – Saturn & Mars – Morning sky, within 1˚, see planet info below.
- Venus (West) – We are reaching maximum Venus! It reaches its highest height above the Western horizon on the 24th. Just watch the sunset and look West. Venus will be the brightest light and first object you see off in that direction. If you have binoculars or a telescope, you’ll be able to see the half-lit phase of Venus.
Throughout the night – None
- Saturn, Jupiter, Mars – Two conjunctions!!! – The main show in the mornings is the lineup of these three planets. Get out after 5am any morning, and start by finding the brightest spot in the SouthEast, which will be Jupiter. From here, you can find Saturn and Mars. Saturn will be the bright spot that is consistently less than a fist-width down and to the left of Jupiter all month. Mars has a different story, starting out on the opposite side Jupiter, about a fist-width up and to the right of Jupiter on the 1st. Each day it closes in on Jupiter, until it finally passes Jupiter, within 1˚ or one pinky’s width on the 20th. A GREAT conjunction. But wait, there’s more! Mars then continues this Eastward March and has ANOTHER conjunction on the 31st, but this time with Saturn, passing again within 1˚ of a planet.
Use a sky map from www.skymaps.com to help you out.
Orion & his winter companions –By 7pm, Orion is about as high as it will get for the night about halfway up the southern sky, tempting us to tour the winter constellations. Begin by finding Orion by looking for three stars in almost a straight line and close to each other, Orion’s Belt, which is surrounded by a bigger, vertical, almost rectangle of stars. Orion will be our guidepost for the other winter constellations. Start at the left belt star and draw a straight line connecting them, then continue that line far past the last belt star about 20˚ or two fist-widths held at arm’s length. There you’ll find the V constellation Taurus, with bright red Aldebaran at the top left of the V. Taurus is part of a big cluster of stars known as the Hyades. Remember that line you just made? Follow it just 10˚ further (one fist-width) and you’ll find a mini-mini-dipper of stars call the Pleiades, which is another open cluster of stars within our Milky Way Galaxy. Let’s go back to the belt, but draw the connecting line from right to left, and continue about 20˚ past the belt, where you’ll find the brightest star in the sky, Sirius. Perhaps you can also see the constellation Canis Major, known as the big dog. We’ll stop there for this month, and pick up next month with Gemini, Auriga, and Canis Minor.
Auriga, Gemini – Look almost straight up, and you’ll find a pentagon shaped constellation which is the Charioteer Auriga, with its brightest star Capella. Gemini, the twins, will be to the left of Auriga, with bright Castor and Pollux heading them up. For reference, Orion will be below both of them.
Big Dipper, Bootes, Virgo – The Big Dipper should be easy to find in the NW. Follow the curve of his tail or handle to the next bright star you see, about 30˚ away, which is Arcturus. “Follow the arc to Arcturus.” That’s the brightest star in Bootes, which looks like a kite. Take that same curve, and follow it about another 20˚ to “speed on to Spica”, the brightest star in Virgo, one of my favorite constellations, since it reminds me of the Dickinson Mermaid.
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365 Days of Astronomy
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