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Star Gazing - March 1, 2021


■ It's not spring for another 19 days, but the Spring Star Arcturus seems eager to thrust itself
into view. It rises above the east-northeast horizon about an hour after dark now, depending
on your latitude.

To see where to watch for this, find the Big Dipper as soon as the stars come out; it's high in
the northeast. Follow the curve of its handle down and around to the lower right by a little more
than a Dipper-length. That's the spot on the horizon to watch.

By 10 or 11 p.m. Arcturus dominates the eastern sky.

■ Algol should dip to its minimum brightness, magnitude 3.4 instead of its usual 2.1, for a
couple hours centered on 11:21 p.m. EST (8:21 p.m. PST).

■ Will you be out before dawn Tuesday morning? The waning gibbous Moon will be shining in
the southwest, offering telescopic views of a phase you're probably not used to. And spot Spica
about 5° below the Moon (for North America).


■ Sirius blazes high in the south on the meridian by about 8 p.m. now. Using binoculars,
examine the spot 4° south of Sirius (directly below it when it's near the meridian). Four
degrees is somewhat less than the width of a typical binocular's field of view. Can you see a
little patch of gray haze here? That's the open star cluster M41, about 2,200 light-years away.
Its total magnitude adds up to 5.0.

Sirius, by comparison, is only 8.6 light-years away — and shines 400 times brighter.


■ After dinnertime at this time of year, five carnivore constellations are rising upright in a
row from the northeast to south. They're all seen in profile with their noses pointed up and
their feet (if any) to the right. These are Ursa Major the Big Bear in the northeast (with the
Big Dipper as its brightest part), Leo the Lion in the east, Hydra the Sea Serpent in the
southeast, Canis Minor the Little Dog higher in the south-southeast, and bright Canis Major
the Big Dog in the south.


■ Mars is about 3° left of the Pleiades this evening through Saturday evening. Its background
stars slide down a little farther to the lower right each day, as seen below.

Mars passing the Pleiades. It will cross the line from the Pleiades to Aldebaran on March 8th.
(The 10° scale is about the size of your fist at arm's length.)

■ Algol shines at minimum light for about two hours centered on 8:10 p.m. EST Thursday

■ Jupiter and Mercury are in conjunction very low in the dawn Friday morning, as shown in
the second illustration of This Week's Planet Roundup below. Look very low in the east-
southeast about a half hour before sunrise. Bring binoculars to see better through the bright
sky. They'll be 0.6° apart for North America. Look carefully; Mercury is only an eighth as
bright as Jupiter.

Also at dawn on the 5th: The last-quarter Moon shines in the south with Antares 5° below it.


■ February was Orion's month to stand at his at his highest in the south in early evening.
Now March pushes him a little westward and brings his dog, Canis Major with Sirius, into that
exalted meridian-transiting status.

In a moonless dark sky, the stars of Canis Major can be connected to form a nice dog profile,
but through a brighter sky only his five brightest stars show well. These form the
unmistakable Meat Cleaver. Sirius and Murzim (to its right) are the Cleaver's wide top end,
with Sirius sparkling on its top back corner. Down to Sirius's lower left is the Cleaver's other
end, including its short handle, formed by the triangle of Adhara, Wezen, and Aludra. The
Cleaver is chopping toward the lower right.

■ Want to try for Sirius B, the famous white dwarf? Sirius A and B are now at the apparent
widest of their 50-year orbit, 11 arcseconds apart, and will remain so for the next several years
before they start closing up again. You'll want at least an 8-inch scope, a night of really
excellent seeing (keep checking night after night), Sirius at its very highest like it is now, and
the Sirius-B-hunting tips in Bob King's article Sirius B – A New Pup in My Life.

The Pup is east-northeast of the Dog Star and 10 magnitudes fainter: one ten-thousandth as
bright. As Bob recommends, put a homemade occulting bar across your eyepiece's field stop:
a tiny strip of aluminum foil held with a bit of tape. Hide blinding Sirius A just behind the
strip's eastern edge.


■ With the Moon gone from the evening sky, this is a fine week to look for the zodiacal light
if you live in the mid-northern latitudes. At this time of year the ecliptic tilts high upward from
the western horizon at nightfall. From a clear, clean, dark site, look west at the very end of
twilight for a vague but huge, tall pyramid of pearly light. It's tilted to the left, aligning along
the constellations of the zodiac.
Starry, Starry Night . . .
"I know nothing of any certainty, but the sight of the stars
makes me dream." -Vincent Van Gogh
current night sky over Nashville, TN
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