Spectacular Night Sky

On Thursday night, many people looked up at the sky and ask the question, "What's that bright star next to the moon?"

The answer was Mars, but that answer changes night by night as the moon travels along the ecliptic, the path the sun, moon and planets follow across the sky. If you ask the question again on Monday night, March 29, the answer will be the ringed planet Saturn.

Such conjunctions of the moon and planets are regular reminders of how rapidly the moon moves across the sky.

Mars was in opposition to the Sun on Jan. 29, when it appeared 14 arcseconds in diameter, 1/120 of the diameter of the moon. Two months later, it is much farther away, and has shrunk to only 10 arcseconds in diameter.

This was your last chance to get a good look at Mars until it approaches the Earth again in 2012. 

The sky these spring evenings presents a striking contrast between its western half, filled with the bright stars and constellations of winter, and its eastern half, with Regulus the only bright star. Mars sits in solitary splendor in Cancer, one of the most insignificant zodiac constellations, just above the plane of the Milky Way.

But there is much lurking beyond the dim stars of spring, for we are entering the realm of the galaxies. The constellation Leo alone contains five of the brightest galaxies. When we look toward Leo, we are looking above the plane of our Milky Way galaxy at the depths of intergalactic space, unhindered by the clouds of dust and gas which fill our galaxy. And this isn't science fiction!

Enjoy the spectacular night sky!



Helen Hardt said...

There's nothing quite like the awe-inspiring grandeur of the night sky. Makes you realize there are forces much greater than us at work. And I can see where you get your inspiration for your sci-fi stories :).

Debs said...

I love going outside and gazing up at the planets. I especially love it when there's a meteor shower and everything looks so incredibly magnificent.

Cari Quinn said...

Every once in awhile when I'm outside, I remember to look up and the little twinkling stars take my breath away. Really puts things in perspective.

Great post!

Shelley Munro said...

I love looking at the night sky. It's getting darker now so most of our evening walks involve a little stargazing.

Kaye Manro said...

Helen-- the night sky is truly awe-inspiring. And studying it does help to inspire my sci-fi!

Debs -- Star showers are the best!

Cari -- I agree, and what a perspective!

Shelley -- Stargazing is wonderful. And your part of the sky is different than mine!

Suzanne Jones said...

It's a fascinting subject, but makes me feel very small and insignificant.


Kaily Hart said...

I grew up in a remote area of Australia - no big city lights. The night sky there is awesome and while I've lived in other areas of Australia and around the US, NOTHING can compare to the immense sight of a completely dark sky with billions of lights. As kids we would lay out in the back yard and night and 'satellite watch'. Breathtaking just doesn't cover it. Of course, when I was growing up I totally took it for granted. I thought everyone's sky looked like that :).

Linda Banche said...

I love astronomy. Looks like I'm not the only one!

Sarah Simas said...

I grew up in the country and didn't have to compete with street lights for views of the stars.

I really enjoy bright full moons (lol on hunkie men, too!!) There is a planetarium 45mins away. When my kids get a little older I want to take them there.

Too cool about the Leo info, I'm a Leo!!