Sky at a Glance March 2 – 9

Photo showing the location of two large (and long) constellations: Eridanus the River flowing from Orion's foot, and Hydra the female Water Snake whose head is opposite Orion to the east.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 March 2 – 9 ~by Curt Nason

Two of the largest constellations are seen in the southwest and southeast around mid-evening. Eridanus the River flows from Rigel in Orion’s foot to the lower right, and then makes a sharp curve to the left before disappearing below the horizon. It doesn’t end there; it extends at least the same distance southward to terminate at Achernar, the ninth brightest star in the sky. Achernar, of course, means “the river’s end.” The star near Rigel is named Cursa, which means “the footstool.” In terms of square degrees of sky, Eridanus is the sixth largest constellation. It has been associated with many earthly rivers but most often with the Po River in Italy, which the Greeks called Eridanos.

Hydra the female Water Snake rises out of the southeast, with its head reaching as high as Orion’s. A smaller constellation called Hydrus the male Water Snake is near Achernar and is never seen from New Brunswick. Hydra is the largest of the 88 constellations and one of the longest. If you consider the horizon as the ocean surface, and if you have all night, you can picture Hydra leaping completely out of the water and disappearing in a giant belly flop. Its brightest star, Alphard the “solitary one,” just makes the top 50 in terms of brightness. In mythology the Hydra was a multi-headed creature slain by Hercules as his second labour.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:56 am and sunset will occur at 6:06 pm, giving 11 hours, 10 minutes of daylight (7:01 am and 6:12 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:43 am and set at 6:16 pm, giving 11 hours, 33 minutes of daylight (6:48 am and 6:21 pm in Saint John). Sadly, for some, this is the last week of Standard Time. The later sunset times make it more difficult to perform outreach observing for youth groups and elementary schools.

The Moon is new on Wednesday and the slim crescent sits 8 degrees left of Mercury in evening twilight on Thursday. Mars is zipping through the constellation Aries and in a month it will pass between the Pleaides and Hyades star clusters. By the end of the week, Venus, Saturn and Jupiter will be nearly equally spaced along the shallow morning ecliptic.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on March 2 at 7 pm. Also, RASC NB members will be holding a public observing event at the Kouchibouguac Park Visitor Centre on March 2 from 7:30 to 9:30 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

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