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Night Sky this Week

Venus will continue to climb in the western sky and get brighter as the “evening star” is the brightest object in the night sky beside the moon in the night sky this week. Venus sets around 11:02 PM. Use binoculars or a telescope to pick out Uranus right to the northeast of Venus. Uranus will appear as a flat point of bluish light. Also, adding the display will be the thin crescent moon gliding past these planets.

Jupiter the giant planet hangs close to the western horizon. This week Mercury will appear to the right hugging the horizon with Jupiter. Mercury will rise while Jupiter sets in the west. Jupiter gets closer to the horizon at the end of the month setting around 9:02 PM this week and Mercury at 8:34 PM.

Mars can be on the western horizon tonight. It is easy to spot as it shines with an orange-red glow as soon as it gets dark. With a small telescope, you will see features on the planet like the two polar caps. Mars is getting dimmer because earth and Mars are pulling away from each other. Mars sets a few hours after midnight around 3:22 AM. Close to Mars to the lower right is a dimmer reddish star called Aldebaran, the eye of the bull (Taurus). The head is a V-shaped star cluster. Mars appears to be going backward in its orbit because of how the earth is moving in its orbit.

Saturn starts to appear in the morning sky around 6:19 AM before sunrise in the east. Saturn’s view improves as it starts to rise earlier as the year continues. On Sunday the thin crescent moon sits close to the ringed planet 30 minutes before sunrise.

The winter constellations will soon give way to the spring constellations. Take another look at the winter constellations before they disappear. Orion the Hunter can be found looking south with some of the brightest stars in the winter’s night. The belt consists of three stars that point to the Pleiades. Rigel is a bright white star (the left knee), Betelgeuse a bright red star (the right shoulder), Bellatrix (the left shoulder), and Saiph (the right knee). The sword is the gaseous nebula called the Orion Nebula with four stars shining in it called the Trapezium Cluster, which is easy to bring forth with binoculars or a telescope. Note the red Betelgeuse is a red giant and one of the largest stars known.

Orion is followed by Canis Major the great dog. In this constellation is the star, Sirius (the dog star) the brightest star in the night sky. The early people saw Sirius rise early in the morning in the latter summer and along with the sun called this time the dog days of summer. Sirius is 25 times bigger than our sun and only 8.6 light years away. Sirius has also a small white dwarf star revolving around the primary star.

Gemini the constellation is overhead to the northeast of Orion this time of year. It lies above the brightest star, Sirius. The constellation is Latin for “the twins” recognized for the two bright stars Castor and Pollux (the heads of the twins) and the fainter stars become their bodies.

Do not forget to check out the winter triangle! Find the brightest star Sirius (the big dog), then go up to Orion's left shoulder for the bright reddish Betelgeuse, then go left and down to Procyon (the little dog) for the three sides. The winter triangle is smaller than the summer triangle, however, all three sides are more equal. It appears above the southern horizon.

Early in the morning, you may notice the summer constellations of Scorpius and Sagittarius (the teapot) start to rise.

Through the week of March 31st.

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