Astronomy: The Week Ahead – Mon 23 Mar to Sat 28 Mar 2015

the week ahead

Charts and Jupiter image from Starry Night Pro;Β M11 cluster image courtesy NOAO. M27 and NGC 2169 images courtesy Wikipedia Commons; additional graphics created in Adobe Illustrator CS6.


Monday March 23

The western sky is graced tonight as twilight dims, by a fine view of Venus, Mars and the Pleiades in an almost vertical line. Mars will be very low on the horizon in Pisces, as it continues to leave for the season. Venus, between Cetus and Aries is a beacon, easily outshining anything else. The Pleiades sits between the bright stars Aldebaran in Taurus and Mirfak, which joins the two star chains in Perseus.


Tuesday March 24

Tonight’s 5-day-old waxing crescent Moon is squarely in the Hyades open star cluster of Taurus, and under three degrees from Aldebaran. It will be a great sight so close to the red star. Framing the pair will be Orion, its two first magnitude stars and bright belt, and opposite them the Pleiades cluster completes this celestial assemblage. The moon, ever changing, provides a focus for naked-eye astronomy.


Wednesday March 25

Cepheus is up in the northeast before sunrise, and can be found between the recognizable W shape of Cassiopeia, Polaris in Ursa Minor, and Cygnus’ brightest star Deneb. Two shapes are distinct in this constellation, a square, with a triangle attached to one side.

Cepheus is one of the Greek astronomy Ptolemy’s original 48 constellations. Being along the Milky Way, it is rich in open clusters and nebulae. It is also home to quasar S5 0014+81, containing a 40 billion solar mass black hole. The most massive black hole known.


Thursday March 26

The ecliptic is an imaginary line (shown here in green) along the plane of our solar system. It is easy to imagine early this evening as the sky darkens, with Mars, Venus and Jupiter located almost directly on it. The Moon also follows the ecliptic, but look at how far off it is compared to the planets.

The Moon varies more from the ecliptic than the visible planets. It can occult Aldebaran and other bright stars near the ecliptic.


Friday March 27

Want to see summer approaching just a week into spring? Here is some morning magnificence, the summer constellation Scorpius and the Teapot of Sagittarius, due south just an hour prior to sunrise today. Through the two pass the brightest part of our home galaxy the Milky Way, dense with stars, clusters and dark nebulae. Grab a pair of binoculars and sweep this area, you’ll be amazed. For added fun, compare the colors of Saturn and Antares.


Saturday March 28

M27 is a very bright and large planetary nebula known as the Dumbbell, for its visual shape. It is a snap to locate using three stars in Cygnus and imagining where a fourth one would create a rectangular shape. You can see it as a roundish glow in binoculars, and pick up the dumbbell or apple-core shape in a telescope. Using a narrowband filter will bring out more detail. It is a great target for a quick morning view.

This is the brightest planetary nebula, and the first discovered, by Charles Messier in 1764.

Happy viewing!