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The Night Sky Tonight: March 22 – March 30

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 22
Today's waning gibbous Moon is 98% illuminated. With your 10X binoculars find Mare Undarum (1) which is usually an overlooked sea. It measures 121x61 miles and has lots of rough areas. With a 50mm the crater Alhazen (2) on the east of Mare Crisium shows steep slopes, high walls, terraces and a flat floor within its 21 mile diameter. Very near Mare Undarum the isolated crater Liouville (3) is 10 miles diameter. With 100mm it shows a few steep slopes, fairly high walls and a flat floor. With 200mm try Rimae Hase (4), a 182x2 mile rille running SE/NW.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: SkyLine 8" Dobsonian Reflector Telescope, Orion 10x50 Binocular Stargazing Kit

Tomorrow Evening: Messier 51 - The Whirlpool Galaxy

Saturday, March 23
Among the Messier objects in Canes Venatici is the famous Whirlpool Galaxy, M51. It has a very easy location, between just off Eta Ursae Majoris (1) and Alpha (A) Canum Venaticorum. Perhaps the easiest star hop of from Eta (1) using the nearby magnitude 4.65 star 24 Canum Venaticorum (2) to describe a flatten triangle. M51 was discovered in 1773 by Charles Messier. It is magnitude 8.4 and 11.2x6.9 arc-minutes in size, 23 million light years from Earth. You might see the cores of this interacting pair of galaxies in suburban skies, but in dark skies it is a visual masterpiece!

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion SpaceProbe 130ST Equatorial Reflector Telescope, Orion SkyQuest XT12i IntelliScope Dobsonian Telescope

Tomorrow Morning: Moon, Jupiter, Saturn and Venus

Sunday, March 24
If you're up before dawn Sunday morning, three planets and the Moon form a nice arc along the Ecliptic for a great visual start to the day. With a telescope, nothing beats the Moon for dramatic detail. But the big planets put on a good show too. Jupiter is up in Libra and sports a shadow transit of its moon Io. By the time dawn approaches, the shadow is about to head off the disc, so get up earlier to see the whole event. Saturn is below the Teapot asterism in Sagittarius, and with the steep ring incline the view is awesome. Go look!

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion StarSeeker IV 127mm GoTo Mak-Cass Telescope Kit, Orion SkyQuest XT6 Classic Dobsonian Telescope

Tomorrow Evening: Double Star Cor Caroli

Monday, March 25
Cor Caroli is Alpha (A) Canum Venaticorum. This has been thought to be a binary, meaning gravitationally bound, but recent data suggests otherwise. The primary is magnitude 2.9 with a generous 19.4 arc-second separation from the magnitude 5.5 companion. Both are listed as yellow, but other reports note bluish and greenish shades. Rack the focus in and out to spread the light and see the colors in greater detail. It is an easy star hop to Cor Caroli off the handle of the Big Dipper.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion StarBlast II 4.5 Equatorial Reflector Telescope, Orion AstroView 90mm EQ Refractor Telescope Kit

Tomorrow Morning: Moon Views

Tuesday, March 26
This morning the Moon is quite near Jupiter with a shadow transit occurring. On the Moon, 10X binoculars for Theophilus (1) is a 61 mile diameter round formation with very high walls, terraces, an imposing central mountain with four peaks and a wide flat floor. Use 50mm on (2) crater Ibn Rushd and note how damaged it is from other impacts. Further west is Kant (3). Use 100mm to view its 19 miles diameter, small flat floor, high terraced walls and imposing central peak. With 150mm Rimae Sosigenes (4) is a 91x1 mile pair of parallel rimae crossed in the center by a chain of craterlets.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion UltraView 10x50 Wide-Angle Binoculars, Orion AstroView 6 Equatorial Reflector Telescope

Tomorrow Evening: Y Canum Venaticorum ? "La Superba"

Wednesday, March 27
Colorful stars are always interesting to view, but "La Superba" is in a class by itself. Also known as Y Canum Venaticorum, this is among the reddest of the known giant carbon stars. Its radius is 92 million miles, so put it in place of the Sun and Earth would be a very short momentary surface feature. Fortunately it sits 1,004 light years away. At only 2,750 C, this is also one of the coolest known true stars. It is also in the latest stages of mass ejection, about ready to become a planetary nebula. See it while you can!

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian Telescope, Orion AstroView 120ST Equatorial Refractor Telescope

Tomorrow Morning: Last Quarter Moon Targets

Thursday, March 28
Today's Moon is at its southernmost point in this lunation, 21.9 degrees south. With your 50mm binoculars Ptolemaeus (1) shows a chain of craterlets in the NE and a large flat floor with craterlets, depressions and hills. Montes Alpes (2) in 50mm and Vallis Alpes (3) with 100mm are in prime position for fine detail. If you have a 300mm instrument, Rimae Triesnecker (4) is an amazing network of rilles.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: SkyLine 12" Dobsonian Reflector Telescope, Orion Scenix 10x50 Wide-Angle Binoculars

Tomorrow Evening: Messier 106

Friday, March 29
This is a high power view sketched by Dale Holt, showing M106. Discovered by Pierre Mechain in 1781, this disrupted spiral galaxy is at 22 to 25 million light years, magnitude 8.4 and a large 18.6x7.2 arc-minutes in size. You can find it either using the hop to Y Canus Venaticorum (3/27) and up, or follow the bottom bowl stars of the Big Dipper to a pair of dimmer stars as shown. This galaxy is listed as a fine sight in small telescopes, bright, elongated with a prominent nucleus.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion StarBlast 6i Intelliscope Reflector Telescope Kit, Orion StarSeeker IV 114mm GoTo Reflector Telescope

Tomorrow Evening: Mars and Pleiades

Saturday, March 30
Since Mars had its close pass with Earth last year, we've lost track of its whereabouts. Today though, it is paired nicely with the famous Seven Sisters cluster, The Pleiades. It also reminds us that with the change in the seasons just a week ago, the past season's skies are unquestionably leaving us. Taurus and its bright star Aldebaran are sinking westward along with Orion and its bright pair Betelgeuse and Rigel. Tempus Fugit!

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion SkyQuest XT8i IntelliScope Dobsonian Telescope, Orion Monster Mount & 25x100 Binocular Kit

Tomorrow Morning: Venus and Old Moon

Charts from Starry Night Pro, available from Orion Telescopes & Binoculars. M51 and Cor Caroli sketches courtesy Jeremy Perez. M106 sketch from Dale Holt. Lunar images from Robert Reeves. Other images from Starry Night Pro.

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.