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Star Talk for March 2022

By Astronomer Jim

Star Chart is from Astronomical Society of Northern New England

Stars In March, with a focus on Canis Major, Canis Minor, and Gemini:

  • March is named after the god of war, Mars.
  • March is the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere, this year occurring on March 20th. Days and nights are of equal length at the beginning of Spring (and are also equal when Autumn begins).
  • As last month, March doesn’t have any bright planets in the early evening sky. However, with Orion still visible and Canis Major, Canis Minor, and Gemini still visible to the East of Orion, there are still plenty of bright constellations to see!
  • On March 26th, from 8:30-9:30 pm, we will have “International Earth Hour.” It is an event that began in Australia fifteen years ago and now includes 192 countries (of the world’s total of 195). The purpose of the event is simply to increase awareness of the problems facing the Earth. The idea is that everyone should turn of all nonessential lights for that hour. The theme last year was climate change. The theme this year is nature loss and biodiversity.  

Canis Major and Canis Minor:

  • The scientific name for the “Big Dog” constellation is Canis Major and the scientific name for the “Little Dog” constellation is Canis Minor. Canis Major and Canis Minor, in Creek mythology, are the two hunting dogs to the east of Orion in the sky (see the above star chart). They each have one very bright star. The brightest star in Canis Major is Sirius, the brightest star in the entire sky! The brightest star in Canis Minor has the name of Procyon.
  •  In Canis Major is a star cluster called “M41” (after its discoverer, Messier, who made a catalog of faint star clusters and galaxies). M41 is over 2,000 light years away (each light year is 6 trillion miles). It can be seen as a faint smudge of stars below Sirius; with even binoculars, dozens of stars can be visible.

Gemini:

  • Gemini is the constellation of “the twins” and is a constellation of the zodiac. Two bright stars are the heads of the twins. Castor, an orange-giant star, is the twin closest to Orion. Castor is also really a triple star, and each of those three stars is really a double star! Pollux is slightly brighter than Castor. 
  • Near the foot of the twin that is closest to Orion is a star cluster called “M35.” M35 is a bright star cluster and is just barely visible to an unassisted eye. With binoculars or a telescope, M35 can be seen as comprised of hundreds of stars!
M35 Star cluster

Other Sky sights (as discussed last month):

  • Orion is still in sky with his belt of three stars and a sword dangling down from his belt. Within the belt is

M42, a luminous gaseous nebula where new stars are constantly being formed—but it takes many millions of years for each new one!

M42, NASA
  • Lower on the horizon are the Pleiades, sometimes called the “seven sisters.” The Pleiades are a relatively close-by star cluster. With a sharp eye, 5-7 stars can be seen in the Pleiades without binoculars or a telescope.

March Planets and our Moon:

  • On March 5th, near the east horizon in early morning twilight, you can see four planets at once: Venus and Mars will be close to each other and Saturn and Mercury will be very close together. Mercury, the planet that always stays close to the sun, will then return to being too close to the sun to see later in the month.
  • On March 8th, the waxing crescent moon will be in Taurus, between the star Aldebaran and the Pleides. With binoculars, this will be very pretty. A waxing moon is one that is in phases that are “growing,” more lit-up from one night to the next.
  • By mid-month, Venus will rise first (two hours before sunrise) and will be very bright in the early morning sky all month. Venus will be in a nearly half-moon phase, but a telescope is needed to see the phases of Venus (even a low-power telescope will be sufficient.
  • Mars will rise next, and on March 15 will be only 4 degrees away from Venus.
  • Next, Saturn will rise. On dawn of March 25th, Venus, Mars, and Saturn will be an early morning trio, with Venus far outshining the other two. Saturn will be the one closest to the eastern horizon.
  • On the early morning of March 28th, a waning crescent moon will join Venus, Mars, and Saturn. And, Jupiter will be very low in the morning sky, so all together we’ll have four planets and the moon, all visible in a small part of the sky!
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Summer Camp Info Session

Wednesday, March 2 at 5:00 Pacific

We are hosting a Summer Camp Info Session on Wednesday, Mar 2, 2022 at 5:00 Pacific Time. Click here to join us! Meet the Blue Spruce leadership team, including the head nurse, Camp Director, two counselors and the founder and ask all your questions!

Kids need overnight camp now more than ever! For ten years, Camp Blue Spruce has been serving up delicious allergy-friendly meals and building a community of kids who know what it’s like living with food allergies! Our programming is robust and affirming and offers challenges and activities for youth in every age group. High schoolers enjoy special off-site activities, and the CIT program provides rising seniors with leadership skills and a community they will cherish. Learn more about all things Blue Spruce at the info session. We hope to see you there!

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Star Talk – February 2022

By Astronomer Jim

Stars In February, with a focus on Orion and Taurus

The big deal this month isn’t planet viewing but instead to observe the stars! Some of the brightest constellations in the sky and some of the sky’s most famous objects will be visible.

The constellation of Orion, the hunter, will be visible the entire month, due south after dusk. Orion has several noteworthy star objects:

Photo from Wikipedia
  • The red giant star Betelgeuse is in the top left side of Orion. It is the 10th brightest star in the sky but has been strangely oscillating in brightness in recent years. Some scientists believe that Betelgeuse could explode sometime soon (within one hundred or a few thousand years) and become a super nova! It is reddish in color and is about 400 times bigger than the sun!
  • Rigel is diagonally across Orion from Betelgeuse and is also very bright. It is a blue-white star, which means that it is brighter and younger than Betelgeuse. Rigel is really comprised of four separate stars. If astronomers are correct, Rigel will turn into a supergiant star and ultimately explode, possibly leaving a neutron star or a black hole! But that will be many millions of years from now.
  • The belt of Orion, comprised of three stars, is easy to see with the unaided eye.
  • Dangling from Orion’s belt is a sword and within that sword is the famous “Great Nebula,” M42. Within the Great Nebula, new stars are always being manufactured. A new one ignites every few million years! For stars, that is a frequent occurrence! Even with binoculars, you can see a small glowing cloud in Orion’s sword—that is M42!
Photo from a Walmart Poster

In the poster to the left from Walmart: Betelgeuse is the yellowish star to the top left in Orion. The three-star belt of Orion is visible, as well as the sword dangling under the belt. The sword contains Orion’s “Great Nebula.” To the upper right of the picture is the yellow star of Aldebaron in Taurus. To the immediate right of Aldebaron is the Hyades star cluster, an open congregation of stars. To the upper right of the picture are The Pleiades, wrapped in a foggy glow of their own nebula.

Photo from NASA
  • The constellation of Taurus the Bull is to the right (east) and above Orion. In mythology, Orion is fighting Taurus. Taurus is a constellation of the zodiac, which means that the paths of the planets, the moon, and sun appear to go through Taurus. Of interest to observers without a telescope, there are two sky wonders that reside in Taurus:
    • On the back of Taurus the Bull is the cluster of stars called the “Seven Sisters” or “The Pleiades.” It is easily visible as a cluster of stars in Taurus, but differentiating the stars isn’t easy. A person with excellent eyesight can make out 5 or 6, but finding all 7 is hard! With binoculars, all 7 stars are easy to see. With a telescope, there are many more!
    • At the base of the horns of Taurus is the yellow bright star Aldebaron. Immediately to the right of Aldebaron is a large open star cluser called “The Hyades.” Several stars in The Hyades are visible to the unaided eye.

Planets and Moon In February, 2022

  • Venus, Mars, and Mercury are all in the early morning sky, near the SE horizon the entire month. On February 5th, they will be an interesting trio, somewhat close together. Very bright Venus will be in a crescent phase, with its phase just barely visible with binoculars. To the right and below Venus will be reddish and much dimmer Mars. To the left and below the other two will be dim Mercury.
  • On the night of February 9th, there will be a lunar occultation! That means that the moon will appear to eclipse (to cover-up) a star. However, the star is dim and just barely visible in a dark sky. With binoculars, you should be able to see this event in the Portland area—but this star is very dim. The dark edge of the moon (on the left side on this night) will be moving toward Kappa Tauri and will cover up the star at about 8:30 pm PST. Begin looking for the star no later than 8:20 pm so you can see it before the moon covers it up!
  • On the night of February 13th, the gibbous moon (that means about 3/4 full) will be close to Castor and Pollux, the two brightest stars in Gemini. This will be easy to see without any binoculars—all three in a row!
  • In the early dawn of February 26th, the moon will just pass slightly below Antares, the brightest star in the constellation of Scorpius.
  • Jupiter and Saturn will not be visible this month, their orbits taking them into close alignment with the sun.
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Summer Fun Video

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