Sky at a Glance March 24 – 31

Photo showing the constellation Lepus under Orion.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, March 24 -31  ~by Curt Nason

This being the week leading up to Easter, let us look for signs of it in the night sky. Lambs have long been associated with spring and Easter, so we can start with Aries the Ram in the west. For many, the symbol of Easter is Peter Cottontail, the Easter Bunny. When darkness sets in we can see Lepus the Hare below the feet of Orion. I see the constellation as three vertical pairs of stars, with the brightest pair in the middle and the widest to the right. With a reasonably dark sky you can see the bunny ears between the widest pair and Orion’s brightest star, Rigel.

In Germanic mythology, Ostara, the goddess of spring, found a wounded bird and changed it into a hare so that it could survive. This animal was allowed to run as fast as it could fly and retained the ability to lay eggs, which it did in spring to honour its rescuer. The Saxon name for the goddess was Eostre.

Sunrise services are a popular way to celebrate Easter, and that is a good time to look for religious Easter symbols in the sky if you are an hour or two early. The Northern Cross, the most recognizable part of Cygnus the Swan, is high in the east among the procession of constellations. Look for semicircular Corona Borealis to the southwest, one third of the way from the bright star Arcturus toward equally bright Vega. Can you picture this as a cave with an open door? It does play the role of a cave in a local aboriginal legend in which the bowl of the Big Dipper is a bear pursued by seven hunters.

I think the best symbol is seen on the Moon when it is full or nearly so. When it rises in spring, look for the dark bunny ears to the upper right. With them identified, it isn’t difficult to picture Peter Cottontail clutching a giant egg.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:14 am and sunset will occur at 7:37 pm, giving 12 hours, 23 minutes of daylight (7:19 am and 7:41 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:01 am and set at 7:46 pm, giving 12 hours, 45 minutes of daylight (7:06 am and 7:50 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at first quarter during Earth Hour on March 24, a great time to share views of our natural night light. The Mi’kmaq Maple Sugar full Moon occurs next Saturday, giving us Easter on the following day as it is the first full Moon of spring. Mercury spends the week plummeting sunward in the west, on its way to inferior conjunction on April 1. Venus moves slowly away from the Sun, revealing itself soon after sunset. Mars is closing in on Saturn, which is above the globular cluster M22 to the left of the Sagittarius Teapot lid. Jupiter dominates the morning sky in the southwest.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

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