This Week’s Sky at a Glance, March 4 – March 11 ~by Curt Nason
This past week a fellow amateur astronomer and I held an observing session in a rural area outside of Sussex for a home school group. It had been too long a time since I set up a telescope during winter in an area where the sky is truly dark. My local dark sky locations are usually inaccessible in winter and the early evening sky is often ruined by senseless spotlights advertising a shopping district I like to avoid. The dark sky this week made spectacular the objects that are comparatively nice to look at from my backyard. Objects that I can barely discern at the best of times with the naked eye at home were jumping out at me.
One of those objects was M44, the Beehive star cluster or Praesepe (Manger) in the constellation Cancer the Crab, which lies between Gemini and Leo. Even seeing the main stars that make up dim Cancer was a treat. The Beehive was a large glowing patch of haze to my eyes and its many stars filled the view in my telescope, but large clusters like this are appreciated best with binoculars. In times long past the cluster was used as a storm predictor. It would be one of the first objects to disappear when the light clouds that often precede a weather system would move in.
Two other clusters, technically three, are visible to the naked eye this time of year when the sky is clear and unpolluted by inefficient lighting. The Coma Star Cluster, or Melotte 111, lies in the constellation Coma Berenices, between the tail of Leo and Canes Venatici the Hunting Dogs. It is a large, somewhat sparse cluster that spills beyond the view of most binoculars, and centuries ago it was regarded as the tuft of Leo’s tail. The other one, or two, is the Double Cluster between Perseus and Cassiopeia. This pair fits within the view of a low power telescope eyepiece, but binoculars give a better perspective. Following a nearby string of stars with binos will bring you to the Stock 2 star cluster, less spectacular but just as delightful to observe.
This Week in the Solar System
Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:52 am and sunset will occur at 6:10 pm, giving 11 hours, 18 minutes of daylight (6:56 am and 6:15 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:39 am and set at 6:19 pm, giving 11 hours, 40 minutes of daylight (6:43 am and 6:25 pm in Saint John).
The Moon is at first quarter on Sunday, making it a great target for a scope this weekend. It slides just below Aldebaran on Saturday evening and approaches the bright star Regulus in Leo next Friday evening. Midweek, Jupiter is rising at 9 pm, 20 minutes after Venus sets and an hour before Mars sets. Take a look at Saturn before 6 am some morning this week and see if it looks elongated due to the rings. Then move a binocular field to the lower left to see the hazy Lagoon Nebula (aka M8), and perhaps the fainter Trifid Nebula (M20) and star cluster M21 just above it. Mercury is in superior conjunction beyond the Sun on Monday, but it starts its best evening appearance of the year later this month.
Astronomy-Astronomie Moncton invites all to a public observing event at the Moncton High School Observatory on Friday, March 3 from 7:30 to 9:00 pm. The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on March 4 at 7 pm. All are welcome.
Questions? You can contact Curt Nason here.