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Skywatch for the week of March 1,2021

Skywatch 3-1-2021.mp3

Mon Mar 1, 2021 LEO'S RETURN

March, it’s said, comes in like a lion. This is meant to refer to the changeable weather of the new month, as cold winter air meets the warm breezes of spring. But there’s also an astronomical connection. Look south this evening and there you will find the bright stars of winter. Chief among them is Orion the Hunter. Along with him are the constellations Taurus the Bull, the Big and Little Dogs, Auriga the Charioteer, and the Gemini, all marked by bright stars. Now look toward the east. Not much there. But toward the eastern horizon, you'll find another star called Regulus, and it represents the heart of the constellation Leo the Lion. There are several other stars nearby which, with Regulus, form the outline of a backwards question mark in the sky – the lion’s head and mane. Leo is the first of our springtime constellations. The Lion always comes into our eastern evening sky when March begins.

Skywatch 3-2-2021.mp3


The times of sunset and sunrise change from day to day, but they also change as you move north or south. Near the equator, day and night are fairly equal in length throughout the year; but as you head toward the poles, the daylight and darkness periods around the beginnings of summer or winter become extreme. Most places on earth experience long daylight periods with short nights in the summer months, and short daylight periods and long nights in the winter. This is caused by the earth’s tilt as it travels around the sun. A lot of us have a mental picture of the earth flopping over from one side to the other as it moves in its orbit, but that’s not the case. It’s more like watching a steady gyroscope, with the axis of rotation pointed always in one direction, and that direction, the spot in the sky where the earth’s north pole is aimed, is toward the star Polaris, more commonly called the North Star.

Skywatch 3-3-2021.mp3


Of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, only the Great Pyramid of Khufu still stands. Like many old monuments, its four sides are aligned with the compass directions of North, South, East and West. Near the pyramid there is the statue of the Great Sphinx, a lion’s body with a woman’s face. It also faces toward the east, toward the rising sun. It is said that the sphinx represents the combined constellations of Leo the Lion and Virgo the Maiden. And the Great Pyramid, along with other pyramids nearby, align with the positions of the three stars in the belt of the Orion the Hunter, known to the Pharaohs as the mythical god Osiris. In ancient Egypt, the moon was called the left eye of Horus; his right eye was the sun. And three planets were identified with this son of Osiris. Mars was called Horus the Red; Jupiter was named Horus who Limits Two Lands; and Saturn was Horus the bull, not to be confused with the constellation Taurus the bull, to the east of Orion.

Skywatch 3-4-2021.mp3


High in the northern sky this evening there is a somewhat obscure constellation called Auriga, the Charioteer, in legend and myth, an early king of Athens, the son of the blacksmith god Hephaestus or Vulcan, and the inventor of the chariot. Another story portrays him as Phaeton, whose father was the sun god Helios, and who drove the solar chariot on a reckless path across the sky. Now if you're good at imagining constellation shapes, you'll immediately see Auriga in all his glory - a man, driving a chariot, while holding on to a whip in one hand, and a bunch of small goats in the other. But if you have that kind of imagination, then I probably didn't have to tell you all that. For the rest of us, Auriga looks like a pentagon shape - a five-sided figure of stars, marked by a bright yellow star - Capella, the head of the charioteer. Look for the goat kids also, a few tiny bright stars just to the south of Capella.

Skywatch 3-5-2021.mp3

Fri Mar 5, 2021 CANOPUS

If you're outside after sunset tonight, or on any clear evening this month, you should notice a bright star-like object low in the southern sky. It hovers there near the horizon, and at first you might think it was an airplane's landing light. If you've been watching too much TV, you might even think it was a UFO. This particular UFO is easy to identify - It's the star Canopus, second brightest star of the night sky. Canopus, an important star for navigators, is in the constellation of Carina the keel; it marks the rudder of the famous mythological ship Argo, which carried Jason and his crew in search of the Golden Fleece. Folks in the Northern U.S. cannot see this star - the earth blocks it from view. Only at southerly latitudes like Florida can Canopus be seen. When Canopus is near the horizon, the earth's thick atmosphere will even make the star seem to change color, brightness, and shape.