Friday, March 3
The Moon reaches apogee, the farthest point from our planet in its orbit, at 1 P.M. EST. At that time, our satellite will be 252,207 miles (405,888 kilometers) from Earth.
Magnitude 0.4 Mars is still prominent in the evening sky, standing more than 70° high an hour after sunset. The Red Planet sits near Elnath, the tip of one of Taurus’ two horns, some 4° southwest of that star and 20° almost directly above Betelgeuse in Orion. Farther down, 27° below Betelgeuse, is the blazingly bright star Sirius.
Through a telescope, Mars spans 8″, making identification of its surface features challenging. Around 7 P.M. in the Midwest, the dark blotch of Mare Sirenum may be visible, as well as the ligher-colored peak of Olympus Mons.
Sunrise: 6:30 A.M.
Sunset: 5:54 P.M.
Moonrise: 2:09 P.M.
Moonset: 4:54 A.M.
Moon Phase: Waxing gibbous (87%)
*Times for sunrise, sunset, moonrise, and moonset are given in local time from 40° N 90° W. The Moon’s illumination is given at 12 P.M. local time from the same location.
Saturday, March 4
The American Association of Variable Star Observers celebrates Propus (Eta [η] Geminorum) as March’s variable of the month. At this time of year, the Twins are already high above the eastern horizon at sunset. The constellation’s two brightest stars, Castor and Pollux — magnitude 1.6 and 1.2, respectively — shine brightly in the falling dark. Procyon, the magnitude 0.4 nose of the Little Dog, lies to their lower right, while to its lower right is Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.
At the feet of Gemini stands Orion, whose three-star belt and hourglass-shaped body are easy for most observers to pick out. Propus lies nearly 16° north-northeast of Betelgeuse, the red giant sitting at Orion’s shoulder. For a closer signpost, use 3rd-magnitude Mu [μ] Geminorum — Propus lies just under 2° west of this star.
Astronomers first recorded the red giant Propus as a variable star in the 1860s. Its magnitude varies between 3.3 and 3.9 over the course of about two-thirds of a year (234 days). And nearby is an added bonus: The 5th-magnitude open cluster M35 sits just over 2° northwest; binoculars or a wide-field view, such as that through a finder scope, will net you both at the same time.
Sunrise: 6:29 A.M.
Sunset: 5:55 P.M.
Moonrise: 3:11 P.M.
Moonset: 5:29 A.M.
Moon Phase: Waxing gibbous (93%)
Sunday, March 5
Early risers this morning can catch a flock of “wild ducks” flying across the starry sky. Cataloged as M11 and NGC 6705, the Wild Duck Cluster in Scutum is readily visible in the hours before sunrise, climbing as the hours tick by. Around 5:30 A.M. local time, the cluster is some 30° high in the southeast, just off the tail of Aquila the Eagle. Locate 3rd-magnitude Lambda Aquilae, then slowly scan about 4° west-southwest to land on M11.
At magnitude 5.8, M11 is visible to the naked eye from a good, dark site (it’s best to try before the sky begins to brighten with the first hints of dawn). Spanning some 14′, the Wild Duck Cluster is a rich, compact group of nearly 3,000 young stars that sits an estimated 6,000 light-years away. The cluster’s name comes from the V-shaped pattern formed by its brightest members — though if you want to see this likeness, tune out the fainter stars by opting for binoculars or a small scope over anything larger. With too much power, those faint stars wash out your ability to discern brighter pattern.
Sunrise: 6:27 A.M.
Sunset: 5:56 P.M.
Moonrise: 4:13 P.M.
Moonset: 5:58 A.M.
Moon Phase: Waxing gibbous (97%)