Stargazers Report: The Vernal Equinox
The next few days mark the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Click on the audio below to hear KBBI's celestial correspondent Victoria Wilson Winne with your March Stargazers Report.
Most of us will breathe a welcoming sigh on Saturday, March 20th, as it marks the Vernal Equinox heralding the official beginning of spring for the Northern Hemisphere. The word equinox comes from Latin, meaning equal nighttime. And it is when the earth reaches the point in its orbit where its axis is neither tilted towards, nor away from the sun, but is, to use a nautical term, broadside.
So everywhere on the planet is receiving the same amount of daytime and nighttime and for the Southern Hemisphere, it marks the start of their autumn. The occasions of the two equinoxes, the other recurring in September, are the only time when the sunrises directly due east and sets directly due west for everyone on Earth.
On the 18th and 19th, use the moon to introduce you to a delightful arrangement of stars, Bejeweled by the planet Mars. On the 18th, the waxing crescent moon passes below a lovely star cluster, which resembles a miniature misty Ursa Major. This is the Pleiades also known as the seven sisters. The next night, the moon slips between Mars and a distinct V shape of stars pointing West across the sky.
This V is another star cluster known as the Hyades and is part of the constellation Taurus. It's brightest and distinctly red star is called Aldebaran. And this giant star is said to mark the blood red eye of Taurus, the bull. Notably similar in color to Mars, which will be above it, Aldebaran will twinkle, whilst Mars being a planet will shine with a steady light.
Once you have located these two star clusters, you can follow a line from the Pleiades, through the center of the Hyades, to the distinctive line of three stars that make up Orion's belt. O n the 20th, t he moon will be right above the whole constellation of Orion.
Keep following that line of the belt and you will arrive at Sirius, the brightest star in the entire sky. Sirius is particularly spectacular when it first rises, sparkling a rainbow of colors.
As our night skies shorten, be sure to take advantage of the clear nights to explore the stars. And, if we are lucky, we will be treated to some more mesmerizing displays of the northern lights.
This is Victoria Wilson, Winnie with your March Stargazers Report.