Sky at a Glance March 9 – 16

Location of the constellation Columba the Dove under the bright star Sirius in the southern night sky.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 March 9 – 16 ~by Curt Nason

This week we will take the path less travelled to pick out a few of the more obscure constellations in our sky. If you don’t have a clear view to the south or if you are cursed by light pollution in that direction, they will be obscure to the point of invisibility. Around 9 pm, cast your eyes toward Sirius in Canis Major, the Big Dog. If you can’t see that star, the brightest in the sky, then go back inside and read a book.

Hugging the horizon below Sirius you might detect a Y-shaped group of stars that forms Columba the Dove. This is one of the later constellations, created a century after Christopher Columbus made his first voyage, and it was meant to depict a dove sent by another famous sailor called Noah. It could also be the dove released by yet another famous sailor, Jason of the Argonauts fame, to gauge the speed of the Clashing Rocks of the Symplegades. The dove lost some tail feathers and the Argo lost a bit of its stern.

There is a good case to be made for this interpretation. To the left of Columba, rising past the rear end of Canis Major, is the upper part of Puppis the Stern. It was once part of a much larger constellation called Argo Navis, Jason’s ship, which has been disassembled to form Puppis, Vela the Sails and Carina the Keel. To the left of Puppis is a vertical line of three stars forming Pyxis, the (Mariner’s) Compass, and some say it once formed the mast of Argo Navis. At its highest it does point roughly north-south.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:43 am and sunset will occur at 6:16 pm, giving 11 hours, 33 minutes of daylight (6:48 am and 6:21 pm in Saint John). With the change to Daylight Time at 2:00 am this Sunday, next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:30 am and set at 7:26 pm, giving 11 hours, 56 minutes of daylight (7:35 am and 7:31 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at first quarter on Thursday, making this a great week for lunar observing. Throughout the week we see Venus, Saturn and Jupiter nearly equally spaced along the shallow morning ecliptic of spring. All three are moving slowly eastward relative to the stars, with Saturn’s motion being the slowest. Mars is zipping through the constellation Aries in the evening sky, whereas Mercury is at inferior conjunction on Thursday and will become a difficult morning target in the ensuing weeks.

RASC NB members will be holding a re-scheduled public observing event at the Kouchibouguac Park Visitor Centre on Friday, March 8 from 7:30 to 9:30 pm. The William Brydone Jack Astronomy Club meets in the UNB Fredericton Forestry-Earth Sciences building on March 12 at 7 pm. The March meeting of RASC NB, the provincial astronomy club, will be held at Moncton High School on March 16 at 1 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

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