Spring arrives this week, the Moon will be new on Friday, the Seattle Astronomical Society holds its monthly meeting, and we celebrate an astronomy birthday and an anniversary in the next seven days.
The Seattle Astronomical Society meets Wednesday, March 18, at 7:30 p.m. in room A102 of the Physics/Astronomy Building on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. As of this writing the guest speaker or program for the night was still listed as TBA. Watch the SAS website for updates.
SAS also will hold a members-only star party—weather permitting—on Saturday, March 21. Not yet a member? There’s still time to join!
Spring arrives for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere at 3:45 p.m. PDT on Friday, March 20. By coincidence, there’s also a new Moon that day, at 5:36 a.m. There will be a total solar eclipse on Friday as well, but you’ll have to be in the North Atlantic to see it.
Birthdays and anniversaries
March 16, 1750 is the birthdate of Caroline Herschel, sister of Sir William Herschel and an astronomer in her own right. Caroline is thought to be the first woman to actually get paid for her astronomical work. She’s perhaps best known for discovering several comets.
Tuesday is St. Patrick’s Day, and it’s also the fourth anniversary of the MESSENGER spacecraft going into orbit around Mercury. MESSENGER, which stands for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging, has made almost 4,000 orbits of Mercury and has sent back more than a quarter million photos of the innermost planet. The mission has completely mapped the surface of Mercury, measured the planet’s magnetic field, and confirmed the presence of water ice at its north pole.
MESSENGER is nearly out of fuel for course adjustments, and the mission is expected to end later this year. The craft’s orbit will decay and it will eventually crash into Mercury.
Look! Up in the sky
The week’s most interesting celestial view will come Saturday, when Mars will appear just one degree north of the young crescent Moon in the evening twilight. The next evening, March 22, the Moon will appear just three degrees south of Venus. The image at left is from Sky & Telescope magazine; read its in-depth coverage of things to see in the sky this week.
Jupiter is also well placed for viewing this week. It’s the big, bright beacon high in the southeast as evening twilight hits.
For night owls and early birds, Saturn rises a little after 1 a.m. each day this week, and is at its highest in the south just before 6 a.m.
Keep track of Northwest astronomy events by following our calendar.