Triton space center offers stargazing tips
Updated: April 3, 2013 6:56PM
Just after 6 a.m. on the morning of Wednesday, March 20th, we residents of the Northern Hemisphere will welcome the return of spring.
The days are now lengthening at their fastest rate of the year. Each day is now almost 3 minutes longer than the previous day.
The spring of 2013 features the two largest planets in the solar system — Jupiter and Saturn — well placed for viewing. The early evening belongs to Jupiter, which was actually at its best last December. Nevertheless, Jupiter still remains the brightest in the evening sky and will continue to attract attention until the Sun’s glare catches up with it in the latter half of May.
Not nearly as bright as Jupiter but still visible to the eye is Saturn, which will reach its closest point to Earth in late April. Saturn is a beautiful sight through a small telescope. Now located in western Libra, Saturn rises just before 10 p.m. in late March and reaches its highest position in the sky around 3 a.m. In the hours before dawn, a small telescope will now show Saturn’s splendid rings, along with its largest moon — Titan.
But the planets are not the only attractions this spring. High in the southwest and still dominating the evening sky are the bright stars of winter. Orion the Hunter is the most easily recognized of these winter constellations, with two bright stars marking his shoulders, two more bright stars marking his feet and three stars in a diagonal row marking his belt. Telescope owners should look below Orion’s belt to see the Great Nebula in Orion, which is a huge gas cloud from which new stars are born.
With the passage of the Vernal Equinox, the springtime stars are beginning to make their way onto the celestial stage. Ursa Major (and its better known Big Dipper), Leo the Lion, Cancer the Crab and the bright stars Arcturus and Spica are the headliners of spring. Both Leo and Cancer are constellations of the zodiac, which means that the sun, moon and planets pass through these stars as they circle our seemingly unmoving earth.
Leo is probably the most famous and prominent of the spring constellations. A backwards question mark of stars outlines the mane of the mighty lion, punctuated by the bright star Regulus, which marks the lion’s heart. To the left (east) of Regulus, a right triangle of stars forms Leo’s hindquarters and tail.
Farther to the west of Leo is the rather inconspicuous constellation of Cancer, the crab. Although the constellation itself is rather unimpressive, Cancer contains one of the loveliest star clusters in the heavens, called the Beehive Cluster. Visible to the naked eye from dark locations, the Beehive Cluster resembles a glittering nest of stars through binoculars or a low -powered telescope.
For more information about the celestial objects mentioned in this article or to pose a question about the current sky, you may email the Cernan Center at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more complete information about astronomy, space news and the current sky, as well as the opportunity to observe the sky with telescopes, attend the Monthly Skywatch at Triton College’s Cernan Earth and Space Center. This spring, the Monthly Skywatch will take place at 7:30 p.m. on three Saturdays: March 23, April 20 and May 18. Outdoor telescope viewing is immediately after the indoor presentation, weather permitting.
For public program and ticket price information, call the Cernan Center’s Program Line at (708) 583-3100 or visit the Cernan Earth and Space Center Online at triton.edu/cernan.