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Planets to explore: this week - Mar 14 - 20, 2005.


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Mar 14, 2005: While the Moon will figure prominently in this week's scheme, there will be many occultations to view as well as lunar features. We'll return to visit both the M50 and M44, as well as learn about double star - Algieba There are two minor meteor showers and planets to explore. So grab your binoculars and telescopes, because...

Monday, March 14 - Today is the birthday of Albert Einstein. Often called the most brilliant mind of our times, I'd rather think of him as a man who never wore socks, believed that curiosity and imagination were more important than knowledge and made a math mistake when helping a student with homework. Now that's a man you can admire!

For our friends in eastern Europe, we wish you clear skies as the Moon occults bright star, Delta Aries during the early evening hours. Please check IOTA information for precise times and locations. For the rest of us, tonight's Moon will offer an outstanding view of Mare Crisium, easily identified with binoculars in the northeast section. Let's turn the telescope its way to discover two small interior craters that will be near the terminator. Not far from the western wall, look for small craters Pierce in the northwest and Picard to the southwest.

Give the Moon time to wester and let's head back out for both binocular and telescopic open cluster - M50. By drawing a mental line between Sirius and Procyon, you will find this sparkling collection of stars easy to find. Cataloged by Messier in April of 1772, this loose - and somewhat heart-shaped gathering of blue/white stars resides around 3000 light years distant and contains several Red Giants like the prominent one on its southern edge.

Tuesday, March 15 - Although Mercury has passed its greatest elongation, it is still possible for northern hemisphere observes to catch the elusive inner planet planet about a fist's width above the western horizon just after sunset. Look southwest of bright Gamma Pegasus to help guide you.

For the southern hemisphere, keep watch for the Gamma-Normid meteor shower with an average fall rate of about five to eight per hour.

Tonight Mare Fecunditatis will be visible in the southeast section of the Moon to binoculars with the bright ring of Langrenus on its eastern shore. For telescopic viewers wishing a challenge, focus on the area where Mare Fecunditatis and the northern Tranquillitatis meet. The shallow bright ring is Crater Taruntius. About midway across Fecunditatis expanse to the south you will see two small pockmarks sitting side by side. Both are named for Charles Messier, crater Messier A is to the west. As you scan the sky around the Moon, be sure to check out how close the Plieades are. At 8:00 pm EST, the M45 will be only one degree away to the north.

Wednesday, March 16 - Tonight will be the peak of the Corona-Australid meteor shower. Favouring more southern observers, be on the lookout for around five to seven bright streaks per hour moving from south to north.

Today in 1926, Robert Goddard launched the first liquid fuel rocket that reached the amazing height of about twelve meters. How about if we set our sites about 20 million times higher? For binoculars, the Moon will reveal the beginnings of Mare Frigorius to the north joined by Mare Serenitatis to its south. Look for the dark floored Lacus Somniorum between them. Steady hands will reveal the ancient Crater Posidonius, but try a telescope. South of Posidonius along the eastern shore is the ruins of Le Monnier - the Luna 21 landing site. Continue south approximately the same distance and you will see a shallow crater known as Littrow. Look to the mountains just south of the edge to discover the Apollo 17 landing area.

If you've got a clear night, why not wait a few hours and return for the M44? If skies are still bright, form a triangle between Pollux, Regulus and Procyon and set your binoculars in the center. Known as the "Beehive", our stellar swarm is only about 500 light years away. With a wide range of magnitudes to feast the eyes upon, look for at least a handful of orange stars in the blues and whites. Judging by these well evolved members, science concludes this cluster is about 400 million years old.

Thursday, March 17 - Happy St. Patrick's Day! All of Europe will be favoured tonight as the Moon occults 4.6 magnitude 136 Tauri in the early evening hours. Please check IOTA for specific times in your area. For west/central and southeast Australia and New Zealand, you will fare better with brighter Beta Tauri on this universal date. Check this IOTA page to compute times for your location.

The early evening Moon will also offer up the Apollo 11 landing area, but since we've become familiar with Sabine and Ritter, let's head north of the pair for a more unusual feature. Tonight use your telescope to locate the Rima Ariadaeus located on the terminator about midway along the west shore ofMare Tranquillatatis. It will appear as a fine "crack" running roughly from east to west through the bright landscape.

Friday, March 18 - The Moon will dominate the early evening hours, but why not enjoy its features as we scan the terminator in binoculars to enjoy the Caucasus Mountains and outstanding craters Aristillus and Autolycus to the north. Just south of this outstanding pair is a rather curious dark area known as Palus Putredinus, or the "Rotten Swamp". On September 13, 1959 European observers witnessed the impact of Lunik 2 in this area.

The first "space walk" was performed by Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov on this day in 1965, but tonight let's walk across space as we head towards the back of the lion's head - Gamma Leonis. Known as Algieba, this magnitude 2.6 yellow star will appear to have a companion star to its south in binoculars, but a telescope is needed to see the 3.8 magnitude B star to the east/southeast. At around 100 light years away, this yellow/orange pair share an elliptical orbit about 300 AU apart. It takes about 600 years for this pair to revolve and they will reach maximum separation in just another 95 years.

Saturday, March 19 - Tonight will be central Europe's turn for yet another occultation as the Moon covers Upsilon Geminorum. Check IOTA for times and locations. For northwestern Australia, you have Iota Geminorum on your list, but be advised this is a universal date.

As we view the Moon through binoculars tonight, we see near the terminator to the south three very prominent craters in a line. From north to south their names are Ptolemy, Alphonsus and Arzachel. Telescopically, the centermost - Alphonsus - has a wonderful history of volcanism. Its small central mountain is the only place on the Moon where photographic evidence of outgassing was verified by a spectrogram. For eastern time zones, be sure to have another look around 11:00 pm when the creamy yellow Saturn will be about five degrees south of Selene.

Sunday, March 20 - Tonight the Moon will be at apogee - the furthest from the Earth - at around 251,560 miles. Even at this incredible distance, no feature on the Moon will be more prominent to binoculars and Telescopes than the dazzling class one Crater Copernicus. Thanks to the work of Shoemaker, there is no doubt this impressive impact crater bears similarities to own our terrestrial formations. The more power and aperture you add to this crater, the more details you will see.

Just because skies are bright tonight doesn't mean that astronomy has come to an end! Take the time to visit with Saturn and note the position of Titan as well as its smaller moons. If skies cooperate, stay up a bit later and view Jupiter. With its many satellite events and transits of the "Great Red" spot, you are sure to catch something new and different each time you look.

Until next week, keep looking up and travelling at light Speed... Tammy Plotner




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