2022, March 31:  Morning Planets, Evening Bear Guard

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March 31, 2022:  The gap from Venus to Saturn and Mars continues to widen.  Mars nears its Saturn conjunction.  Arcturus and Spica are in the eastern evening sky.

Chart Caption – 2022, March 31: The morning interplanetary triplet fits in a binocular’s field of view.

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by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Chicago, Illinois:  Sunrise, 6:37 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 7:14 p.m. CDT.  Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.

Morning Sky

Three bright planets are visible in the east-southeast before sunrise.  Brilliant Venus steps away from slow-moving Saturn and Mars.

Three mornings ago, the three planets clustered within a circle 5.3° across.  This morning, they are found within a circle 6.0° across and easily within a binocular’s field of view.

Chart Caption – 2022, March 31: Venus, Mars, and Saturn are in the east-southeast before sunrise.

Forty-five minutes before sunrise, Venus is nearly 11° up in the east-southeast.  Dimmer Saturn is 3.1° to the lower right of Venus.  Mars is 6.0° to the right of Venus and 3.1° to the upper right of Saturn.

Mars is heading toward a close conjunction with Saturn on April 5.  The gap is 0.4°.  Watch Mars close in on Saturn during the next several mornings.

Jupiter is slowing emerging from bright sunlight.  This morning it rises 37 minutes before the sun.

Venus passes Jupiter in a Proximate Conjunction on April 30.  The gap is 0.5°.  This morning the Venus – Jupiter gap is 26.7°, although the Jovian Giant is a challenge to see with normal observing methods.

Mercury is nearing its superior conjunction with the sun and a pretty evening appearance in front of the brighter starfields of Taurus.

For sky watchers who have a telescope, Venus passes very close to Neptune on the morning of April 27.  This occurs during brighter morning twilight when both planets are low in the sky.  It’s worth noting and attempting to make the observation through a telescope.

Evening Sky

Chart Caption – 2022, March 31: Two hours after sunset, Arcturus and Spica are visible low in the eastern sky.

The star Arcturus rises at sunset today. Its sundown rising is a signal that the spring season is here in the northern hemisphere.

The star’s name means “bear guard.”  Along with its constellation, Boötes, Arcturus seems to chase the Big Bear, its brightest stars marked by the seven stars of the Big Dipper, westward.

Topaz Arcturus is the third brightest star visible from Earth, second brightest visible from the mid-northern latitudes, and the brightest in the northern half of the sky – north of the celestial equator.

The star is relatively nearby, 37 light years, and shines with a brightness of about 100 suns. If placed at the distance of Sirius, 8.6 light years, Arcturus would easily outshine the Dog Star and rival the brightness of Jupiter.

The 1933 World’s Fair used Arcturus’ light to energize photoelectric cells attached at the eyepieces of four telescopes in the eastern U.S. – Yerkes Observatory, University of Illinois, Allegheny Observatory, and Harvard Observatory – to switch on a searchlight that signaled the beginning of the fair.

Arcturus was thought to be 40 light years away.  The 1933 fair was 40 years after the 1893 Columbian Exposition

There is a competing story about how the searchlight was signaled from the light of a telescope set up on the fairgrounds.

At two hours after sunset, Spica is low in the east-southeast.  Along with Arcturus, Spica shines brightly in the night sky during the spring and summer months.

Spica rises at sunset on April 12. The star is near the ecliptic – the plane of the solar system.  The moon and planets are frequently seen near the star.

The moon reaches its New phase at 1:24 a.m. CDT tomorrow.

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