Click here for Dave Leake's preview of sky events for 2015!
For: February 23-March 1
Wednesday brings the first quarter Moon, situated among the stars of Taurus, our celestial bull. This night, the Moon is very near the eye of our bull, the red giant star Aldebaran. The star’s name means “the follower,” presumably because the star follows the Pleiades star cluster across the winter sky. The V-shaped face of our bull is a star cluster, too! It is an older cluster called the Hyades. Aldebaran isn’t a part of the cluster, though it would appear it should be. The stars of the Hyades are roughly 153 light years from us but Aldebaran is just under half this distance, so it’s a foreground star. Check out the Hyades in binoculars; you won’t regret it!
For: March 2-8
Watch tonight’s full Moon rise to the right of the planet Jupiter. March’s full Moon has been called the “worm moon.” If you’re not sure where that name comes from, watch your step when out for a walk! The University of Illinois Astronomy Department is sponsoring another free public talk in the Icko Iben series featuring noted astronomer John Carlstrom. Dr. Carlstrom will talk about his work at the South Pole Telescope on Wednesday night at 8pm in the Lincoln Hall Theater on campus. Friday, the planetarium welcomes Ph.D. student Lynnicia Massenberg to discuss the controversial topic of GMOs as part of our monthly lecture series. Admission is only $1 at the door.
For: March 9-15
Ever wanted to take a photo of the night sky but weren’t sure how to do it? What type of camera do you need? Astrophotography will be the topic of discussion at this Thursday’s CU Astronomical Society meeting (7 p.m.) and the public is invited. Also Thursday night, look for a waning gibbous Moon just above and to the left of Saturn. This weekend, at roughly 9pm, look towards the eastern horizon for the rising of Arcturus, one of our brilliant spring stars. Arcturus is the fourth brightest star in the sky, taking on an orange color. An hour later, Spica follows. Spica is a bluish star, part of the constellation Virgo. Hmmm, orange and blue!
For: March 16-22
The long-awaited vernal equinox occurs this Friday at 5:45 p.m. On this day, the Sun appears directly above the Earth’s equator. For us, it will rise due east, stand 50 degrees high at lunch time, then set due west. Friday is also the date of the New Moon and this time the Moon’s shadow hits the Earth! Those in the shadow will see a solar eclipse. Thing is, to do that, you have to be in the Arctic Ocean! After last month’s temperatures, the Arctic isn’t high on my list! In the days to follow we will see a crescent Moon after sunset. Sunday night, a thin crescent can be seen in the west, just to the left of Venus.
For: March 23-29
Friday brings us March’s first quarter Moon. On this night, the Moon will be seen above our “winter triangle,” consisting of three bright stars. Below and left of the Moon is Procyon, below and right of the Moon is the reddish Betelgeuse (in Orion’s shoulder) and, lastly, the brilliant Sirius, the brightest nighttime star, is well below the Moon. The triangle isn’t an official constellation but it’s something recognizable to those observing from brightly lit areas. The moon phase means it’s time for another CU Astronomical Society observatory open house, our first of the year. The dome is located southwest of Champaign, south of the Monticello Road on 700E. The session is weather permitting. See cuas.org for directions.
For: March 30-April 5
A big weekend is in store! Friday night, the planetarium welcomes doctoral student Lynnicia Massenburg into the dome at 7 p.m. for another “World of Science” talk. Her topic is genetically-modified plants. Then set an alarm for early Saturday morning as, if clouds permit, we’ll be treated to a Total Lunar Eclipse. The Moon enters the darkest part of the Earth’s shadow at 5:15 a.m. The Moon will be fully immersed in the shadow at 6:54 a.m. but then starts to re-emerge from it at 7:06, so totality is very short! The Sun will rise before the eclipse ends. Given the Full Moon is opposite the Sun, look for the Moon nearly due west.
See Dave Leake's "Prairie Skies" column in the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette each Monday morning.