As seen from around the world on the night of March 8, 2014, the moon passes right in front of the big loop of stars known to those in the Northern Hemisphere as the Winter Circle or the Winter Hexagon. The Winter Circle stars share the spotlight with an object second only in brightness to the moon: the planet Jupiter.
With the exception of the Ursa Major Moving Cluster, the Hyades cluster is the closest star cluster to Earth, at a distance of 150 light-years. This cluster is very easy to spot in the night sky, because it has a compact and distinctive shape of the letter V. Follow the links inside to learn more about the Hyades.
Chances are you’ve never seen Cancer the Crab, the faintest of the 13 constellations of the Zodiac. Yet Cancer contains one of the sky’s finest star clusters, known as the Beehive. Also, Cancer has a special significance to astronomy and earthly culture. And it has a rich history and mythology. Follow the links inside to learn more about the constellation Cancer.
Aldebaran, the brightest star in the constellation Taurus the Bull, might be hard to see in the glare of the rather fat waxing crescent moon on the night of March 7. Try putting your finger over the moon and you might have an easier time seeing Aldebaran, its surrounding V-shaped Hyades star cluster and the nearby Pleiades star cluster.
The planet Jupiter is stationary today. In other words, this dazzling world ends its retrograde (westward) motion in front of the stars. Retrograde motion began on November 7. What does it mean? Only that Earth passed between Jupiter and the sun earlier this year. That event marked the best time to see Jupiter, since the planet was closest to us and brightest in our sky. The end of retrograde motion means the best months for seeing Jupiter are over. And yet you might not believe it if you gaze at Jupiter tonight.
The gloriously bright star Arcturus rises into your east-northeastern sky around 9 p.m. tonight. This yellow-orange beauty – like any brilliant star – sparkles wildly when it hovers near the horizon. Arcturus is the brightest star in the constellation Bootes, which represents a Herdsman – though to our modern eyes, this star formation might look more like a kite or snow cone.
Arcturus is the 4th brightest star in the night sky, after Sirius, Canopus, and Alpha Centauri. Sirius shines brightly on winter evenings. The famous southern star Canopus does, too, as seen from latitudes like those in the southern U.S. Alpha Centauri is too far south to be seen from the continental U.S. So Arcturus is worth getting to know. It is not only bright but also – due to its northerly location on the sky’s dome – visible for much of the year for Northern Hemisphere stargazers.
The Greek letter Beta is normally reserved for the second-brightest star in a constellation. But, as with Rigel in Orion, Pollux wears the designation Beta in its constellation, even though it which noticeably outshines Castor, which is Gemini’s Alpha star. Being so close together in the sky, Castor and Pollux are easy to compare. Pollux is golden, while Castor is white. Pollux is brighter than Caster.
If your sky is clear, you should be able to see the young waxing crescent moon smiling at you in the western evening dusk on March 3, 2014. The Northern Hemisphere is favored for this view (because the moon is lower in the sky after sunset and sets sooner after the sun, as seen from the Southern Hemisphere). Meanwhile, the dazzling planet Jupiter shines high in the south at dusk and early evening.
For North America, March 2, 2014 presents a golden opportunity to catch a young moon in the western sky after sunset. At northerly latitudes in the Eastern Hemisphere – Europe and Asia – people also have a good chance of catching the waxing crescent moon after sunset, though it’ll set sooner after the sun than it does in North America. Start your search 45 minutes or sooner after sunset.
There’s a wonderful consolation prize, if you don’t catch the young moon after sunset – or if you do. It’s the dazzling planet Jupiter!