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The Night Sky Tonight: March 5 – March 18

By Mark Wagner

Mark Wagner brings us highlights of what's happening in the sky each night this week. Click on each image to enlarge the view. Happy gazing!

Friday, March 5
Step outdoors before sunrise this morning to see a fine conjunction of Mercury and Jupiter. The pair is less than half a degree apart. Jupiter is at magnitude -1.98 at a distance of 5.2 Astronomical Units (A.U.). Mercury sits 0.37 A.U. from us at magnitude 0.17. Viewing Jupiter in binoculars will show its four Galilean moons off to one side of the planet. Note too, Saturn at higher altitude to the pair's west, at magnitude 0.72.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion 10x50 E-Series Waterproof Binoculars, Orion StarMax 90mm TableTop Maksutov-Cassegrain Telescope

Tomorrow Evening: Moon Targets.

Saturday, March 6
There is much to see this morning on this 44.6% illuminated waning gibbous Moon. With a 10X Binocular (1) Crater Alphonsus is on the Terminator, showing high walls with terraces and a fine central mountain within its 71 mile diameter. With 50mm instruments (2) Rupes Recta will display why its common name is the Straight Wall. This rectilinear fault is a 7 degree slope that runs 67 miles north to south. In 100mm (3) Crater Birt shows as an isolated 10 mile diameter feature with steep slopes, high walls and a rounded floor. Use 300mm on (4) Rima Birt, a wonderful 30 mile long north-south rectilinear rille.

Skill Level: Advanced

Suggested Gear: Orion Scenix 10x50 Wide-Angle Binoculars, Orion SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian Telescope

Tomorrow Evening: Lepus' Messier Globular Cluster

Sunday, March 7
M79 is an often overlooked globular cluster that is an easy find in any telescope. Located on a straight line from (A) Alpha to (B) Beta Leporis and beyond to 5th magnitude star HJ 3752 AB, it will be in the same low power field of view. An 8th magnitude object, it sits 40,000 light years distant and is one of the few globular clusters of the season. While there, look carefully at the 5th magnitude star, which is a close double with magnitudes of 5.4 and 6.6 separated by 3.5 arc-seconds.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion 10x50 E-Series Waterproof Astronomy Binoculars, Orion StarBlast II 4.5 Equatorial Reflector Telescope

Tomorrow Morning: Moon Targets.

Monday, March 8
Today's Moon is a waning crescent at 24% illumination. Use 10X Binoculars to view beautiful (1) Sinus Iridum, the Bay Of Rainbows, with its floor filled with lava, 800 meters below Mare Imbrium. With 50mm try (2) Crater Hainzel with its rough floor and complex of abutting Hainzel A and C. (3) Hortensius Omega in 100mm shows a complex of six volcanoes, four with summit craters, one with a double summit crater. Use a 200mm for the large parallel rilles of (4) Rimae Hippalus.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion UltraView 10x50 Wide-Angle Binoculars, Orion Observer II 70mm Altazimuth Refractor Telescope

Tomorrow Evening: Double Star Beta Leporis.

Tuesday, March 9
Beta Leporis is a challenge double star due to the wide magnitude delta between the primary and secondary stars. Its primary is magnitude 2.9, easily visible to the unaided eye. In a telescope the secondary member is just east of north with a tight separation of only 2.7 arc-seconds. At magnitude 7.5 it may be lost in the glare of the primary except in moments of very steady seeing. Knowing direction in the eyepiece will help, as you can watch primary drift west, and know where north is to try for the companion.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion Apex 127mm Maksutov-Cassegrain Telescope, Orion 150mm Maksutov-Cassegrain Telescope Optical Tube

Tomorrow Morning: Moon, Jupiter, Saturn and Mercury.

Wednesday, March 10
If you're up before sunrise today, find a clear horizon and enjoy this view of three planets and pretty crescent Moon together low in the south-southeast. The Moon will be an 8% illuminated waning crescent below the line of Saturn, Jupiter and Mercury. The Moon and Jupiter will be easiest, Saturn more challenging in the brightening sky, and Mercury very low but still bright enough to pick out. We are now three months from the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. Amazing how quickly they are separating!

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion Mini Giant 15x63 Astronomy Binoculars, Orion ShortTube 80mm Equatorial Refractor Telescope

Tomorrow Evening: Variable Star R Leporis.

Thursday, March 11
R Leporis is a famous carbon star. It is called Hind's Crimson Star for its notable red color. It is also a wide amplitude variable, ranging from a bright magnitude 5.5 to 11.7 over 445 days, currently heading toward minimum. Find it easily using a line from (A) Alpha to Mu Leporis, using 64 Eradini to hop to the chain of four stars show in the 1 degree inset. The star color intensities as it brightens. Estimated at 1,350 light years, its luminosity is 6689 times our Sun.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion StarMax 90mm TableTop Maksutov-Cassegrain Telescope, Orion AstroView 90mm Equatorial Refractor Telescope

Tomorrow Evening: Variable Star RX Leporis.

Friday, March 12
RX Leporis is another easy to find variable star in Lepus. This one has a relatively short period of 79.54 days, ranging in magnitude from a naked-eye 5.12 to a binocular visible 6.65. Use a line between Mu Leporis and (B) Beta Orionis to find (K) Kappa at magnitude 4.3 and (I) Iota at 4.4. RX is next to Iota. Kappa is a fine double star with 2.2" separation, Iota another double with a wide magnitude delta, 4.5 and 9.9 with 12" separation. Fun area!

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion GiantView 15x70 WP Astronomy Binoculars, Orion GiantView ED 20x80 Waterproof Astronomy Binoculars

Tomorrow Morning: Constellation Scutum.

Saturday, March 13
Scutum is a small constellation along the Milky Way. Its name means "shield" and dates to the Italic people then the Roman army. It is a modern constellation created by Johannes Hevelius in 1684. Of the 88 modern constellations, it is 84th in area. The (A) Alpha Scuti is magnitude 3.85 at 199 light years distance. Rich in deep sky targets, there are several open clusters, a globular cluster, planetary nebula, and a great variable carbon star. Bordering constellations include (1) Serpens Cauda, (2) Aquila and (3) Sagittarius.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion 2x54 Ultra Wide Angle Binoculars, Orion DeepMap 600 Folding Star Chart

Tomorrow Morning: Globular Cluster NGC 6712.

Sunday, March 14
The globular cluster NGC 6712 was discovered in 1749 by Le Gentil. It was later independently found by Sir William Herschel, and is part of his catalog. This is a globular at 7.2 arc-minutes diameter, but fairly bright at magnitude 8.69. Use the stars (E) Epsilon and (D) Delta Scuti to hop to a wide chain anchored by a magnitude 5.8 star. From there it is a short hop to the end of the chain and up to the target. No drawing or photo on this one, you can post your impressions here.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion StarSeeker IV 114mm GoTo Reflector without Controller, Orion StarSeeker IV 150mm GoTo Reflector without Controller

Tomorrow Evening: Messier 26.

Monday, March 15
Messier 26 is an 8th magnitude open cluster discovered in 1764 by Charles Messier. Challenging in binoculars even under ideal conditions, it is visible in small telescopes. With roughly 25 stars visible in 6-8" aperture, its brightest member is 11th magnitude, with the cluster over 5,000 light years distant. Find it imagining a nearly right angle from (E) Epsilon and (D) Delta Scuti, away from (A) Alpha.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion SkyQuest XT6 PLUS Dobsonian Reflector Telescope, Orion SkyQuest XT8 PLUS Dobsonian Reflector Telescope

Tomorrow Evening: Moon Targets.

Tuesday, March 16
Tonight's Moon is a 3.7 day old waxing crescent 12.5% illuminated. Low in the western sky, let's use 10X binoculars to view four of its easy targets. Start with (1) Mare Crisium, somewhat oblong at 350 to 370 miles with a very flat dark floor. To its north is (2) Crater Cleomedes showing a 76 mile diameter with a flat floor and high walls. To its north find 52 mile diameter (3) Crater Geminus with a large flat floor and central mountain. Far to the north and isolated is (4) Crater Endymion, showing off its dark flat lava floor contained in 76 mile diameter walls.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion 10x50 E-Series Waterproof Binoculars, Orion Resolux 10x50 Waterproof Astronomy Binoculars

Tomorrow Morning: Carbon Double Star S Scuti.

Wednesday, March 17
Well placed for early morning viewing today is the carbon and double star S Scuti, easily located in the constellation Scutum. This is also a semi-regular variable star with magnitude ranging from 6.6 to 7.3. Hop from (A) Alpha across (E) Epsilon, continuing to an arrowhead asterism with S Scuti as its point. S Scuti sits 1390 light years away and pulsates over 148 days. It has two companions, the closest magnitude 11.9 12" away at PA 239. In the area is also very tight double star (1) RST 4597, a magnitude 7.2 and 8.9 pair with 0.5" separation.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion DeepMap 600 Folding Star Chart, Orion DualBeam 2600mAH LED Waterproof Astro Lantern

Tomorrow Evening: Moon Targets.

Thursday, March 18
Tonight's waxing crescent Moon is at 5.71 days, 27.3% illuminated at apogee. Use your 10X Binoculars for (1) Crater Fracastorius, the 75 mile diameter formation on the shore of Mare Nectaris. Use a 50mm instrument view (2) Crater Posidonius' high walls and craterlets in its 58 mile diameter. A 100mm telescope will show (3) Vallis Capella, an alignment of several craters oriented northwest to southeast over 67 miles. A 300mm reveals fine detail in (4) Rimae Posidonius' ramified rilles.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion StarBlast II 4.5 EQ Reflector Telescope Kit, Orion SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian Telescope

Tomorrow Morning: Double Star STF2306.

Charts from Starry Night Pro. Messier 26 sketch by Jeremy Perez. Lunar images courtesy Robert Reeves and NASA LRO.

Mark Wagner is a lifelong astronomy enthusiast and deep sky observer in the San Francisco bay area. Visit our Facebook Page if you'd like to post comments, questions, sketches or images you've taken to our Night Sky Tonight post.