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Nighttrek Report: What to See in the March Sky

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By Neill Simmons

March brings a special event on Saturday the 16th at 11 am.   The Woodland Hills Library will host a special talk on the upcoming “Total Solar Eclipse,” which will happen on April 8.  The presentation will also review what is going on in the night sky.  Head Librarian, Patty  Miranda will be there to hand out  free ISO Certified Solar Eclipse Viewing Glasses to those who attend.  Kids are welcome.  This is a free event.

The highlight of March occurs on Sunday, the 24th, just after darkness falls.  The swift planet Mercury will be at its highest point in the west.  It will be a small point of light which is very bright about 20 degrees above the horizon.  Make sure to see this.  Binoculars will help you spot it.  One of our favorite fun facts is that a year on Mercury is 88 of our days! This is because Mercury has a small orbit to travel around the sun.

One way our ancestors knew spring was coming is that they watched the “Big Dipper” in the north. When the Big Dipper was standing on its handle, the planting season was near.  The seven star pattern had many names from cultures around the world, but “The Big Bear,” or Ursa Major, was used often.

In March, the great constellations of the winter sky appear to jump to the western half of the night sky.  Sirius, the brightest star in the night, was low in the east in February and now is high in the south in March.  Orion, the mighty hunter constellation, is now in the west.  Below the Orion, we can see the famous “Pleiades,” also known as the “Seven Sisters.”  

At this time the king of planets, Jupiter, is a beacon in the west. Jupiter is the fifth planet from our Sun and is, by far, the largest planet in our solar system – more than twice as massive as all the other planets combined!  Currently, NASA and JPL are working on the “Europa Clipper” which is a ship that will travel to one of Jupiter’s moons, Europa.  The mission is to penetrate Europa’s ice surface and find the ocean beneath and search out possible life forms.

During March 12, 13, and 14, the beautiful, thin crescent Moon will be back in the low night sky and near the bright planet Jupiter which is a great sight!

Monday, March 25, brings us the famous “Full Worm Moon.”  This full Moon was known by native Indian tribes as a sign that spring was coming.  They noticed earthworms would reappear at this time in the dirt.  After 10 pm a “penumbral lunar eclipse” starts. A penumbral eclipse occurs when the Sun, Earth, and the Moon are imperfectly aligned. The Moon will only get slightly darker.  After midnight the Moon will be partially covered.

DAWN PATROL:  The bright planet, Venus, will make its curtain call in March.  It will be easy to spot at 5:35 am until 6:10 am.  Then it will go behind the Sun and disappear.  In August, Venus will return to the evening sky.

Vandenberg SFB has been launching many rockets in the northwest each month.  Frequently, the launch times and dates change at the last minute.  Check their website for updated information.

If you are traveling to Las Vegas, make sure to drive by the “Sphere.”  It is a new 20,000- seat entertainment arena that was constructed for $2.3 billion!  To drive by and view the outside, ever-changing light show is free.  Very often the planets are realistically highlighted.  It is a lot easier to see Jupiter projected on the “Sphere” than it is to hitch a ride on the “Europa Clipper!”

When not stargazing, Neill Simmons is a Wealth Advisor with LPL Financial in Woodland Hills.  If you have any astronomy or financial questions, he may be reached at (818) 936-2626 or neill.simmons@lpl.com.


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