Status Report

The Sky This Week 2004 March 19- March 29

By SpaceRef Editor
March 21, 2004
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The Moon emerges into the evening sky this week. First Quarter occurs on the 28th at 6:48 pm Eastern Standard Time. Luna passes by three bright planets this week. On the 24th, look for her slender crescent just two degrees from dazzling Venus. The following night she lies less than a degree from the soft ruddy glimmer of Mars. Finally, on the evening of the 28th, look for her about 5 degrees above the baleful yellow Saturn.

The Sun appears to arrive at the Vernal Equinox at 1:49 am EST on the morning of the 20th. This is the earliest time that this event has occurred since the year 1896. It will continue to occur a little earlier every four years until the year 2100, which will skip the leap year cycle in the Gregorian Calendar. The Equinox is defined as the moment when the apparent center of the Sun’s disc crosses the Celestial Equator into the northern hemisphere of the sky, and astronomically it marks the beginning of spring. This date is a key date in many religions and cultures, as it fixes a number of important dates in various ceremonial calendars. For most of us, it’s the time when the days seem to get longer at their fastest rate, and we finally shake the chill of winter.

The evening skies this week will allow us to catch a glimpse of all of the planets known to ancient skywatchers. Between March 23rd and April 3rd we have the opportunity to spot Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter beginning in the hours of deep twilight. This is a fairly rare occurrence, so take advantage of any clear skies that might occur and see something Copernicus never did!

Mercury becomes visible by the 23rd as a bright reddish star a few degrees above the western horizon. The crescent Moon stands about halfway between Venus and Mercury that evening. Over the course of the week the fleet planet seems to leap up from the horizon, reaching his greatest elongation on the 29th.

Venus hovers about 30 degrees above Mercury for the week. The dazzling planet is very hard to miss. She also reaches greatest elongation on the 29th.

Mars spends the week drifting between Aldebaran, the ruddy eye of Taurus, the Bull, and the Pleiades star cluster. Mars and Aldebaran will have a similar color and brightness, but Mars is the one that’s moving.

Saturn is best placed for telescopic viewing as soon as deep twilight sets in. The ringed planet is now west of the meridian for the evening hours, so he should be an early priority for your viewing. There are a few more weeks left to have a good look at him, but there are no mosquitoes out right now.

Jupiter brings up the rear of our planet parade, shining brightly in the east during evening twilight. One by one the other planets heel to the west, and by the late night hours Old Jove has most of the sky to himself. His cheery glow accentuates the springtime constellations, and you can spend long hours watching him spin in the eyepiece.

For information on MARS ROVER ACTIVITIES this week, click

For information on BRIGHT SATELLITES passing over Washington, DC this week, click

For more information eclipses, click

For more information on meteor showers, click

For more information on observable comets, click

For pictures of Comet Hale-Bopp, click

SpaceRef staff editor.