Mercury rising , Venus sinking, and a lion in the sky!

The planets dance as we see Venus sinking while gaining Mercury in our skies at sunset.  Leo that majestic lion signals Spring is arriving, and we have a bounty of morning chances to see satellites this week.   Here is your guide to the sky for March 13 to 19, 2017…

Sun – Earth – Moon

Sunrise this week is at 6:47 am and sunset at 6:42 pm and this week the Sun transitions from the constellation of Aquarius into Pisces.   The Moon is at apogee on Saturday at 1:26 pm and we are between Full and Last Quarter phases this week, so the Moon you see will be a Waning Gibbous one.

Dance of the Planets

Mercury re-emerges this week in our evening sky and will be very low in the western sky, watch as it gets higher each evening passing Venus on March 19th and by that night they both set around 7:45 pm.  Venus is sinking and soon we will lose it in the glare of sunset.  Reddish Mars is visible until around 10:00 pm as it continues its eastward march.   Jupiter  rises around 8:30 pm east and is visible in the constellation of Virgo just above bright Spica, while Saturn rises in the eastern sky around 2:00 am in the constellation of Sagittarius.

March 15 at 8:00 pm – Star chart provided by Heavens-above.com

Constellations – transitioning to Spring

Spring is almost here – it arrives officially on March 20th!  It is time to start our transition to the constellations of the new season.  There is an old saying “Spring comes in like a lion, and goes out like a lamb”.  This is astronomically based as when spring begins, Leo the Lion rises in the Eastern sky at sunset and gets higher in the sky as the weeks progress, while at the same time Aries the Ram (sometimes a lamb as well) sets in the west with the Sun as spring begins.   To find Leo the Lion, use the Big Dipper and imagine the four front stars as an imaginary bow.  Fire the arrow the opposite direction from the North Star and you will come to Regulus, the heart of Leo.  It also is the period of the backwards question mark or sickle shape which makes his head and mane.  From there follow it eastward to find the small triangle of stars that mark his hind quarters.   Leo is a prominent constellation in spring, and we’ll use it in future weeks to find other fainter constellations.

Satellites to see

Once again the International Space Station is visible every morning this week.  Monday look for it from 4:45 to 4:48 am moving from north to northeast.  Tuesday see it from 5:28 to 5:32  am moving from northwest to east.  On Wednesday find it from 6:11 to 6:17 am moving from northwest to east.  Thursday it is visible from 5:19 to 5:25 am from northwest to east. Friday you can see it 6:03 to 6:09 am moving from northwest to southeast.  Saturday see it from 5:11 to 5:17 am moving from northwest to east, and Sunday it makes its brightest pass of the week from 5:54 to 6:01 am moving from west to southeast.   Sunday evening the Tiangong 1 makes a good pas from 8:13 to 8:17 pm moving from west to southeast.

Will spring really come in like a lion this year?  We will have to wait and see, but if the sky is clear this week do find the mighty Leo in your evening sky.  Happy stargazing and keep your eye on the sky!

Shawn Laatsch

About Shawn Laatsch

Shawn Laatsch is the director of the Emera Astronomy Center and Jordan Planetarium at the University of Maine. He started his astronomy education career in 1984 and has directed planetariums in university and science center facilities, taught undergraduate astronomy courses, and given numerous lectures around the globe. He serves as President (2017 & 2018) of the International Planetarium Society, Inc. the world’s largest organization of planetarium professionals. Shawn has a passion for sharing astronomy and stargazing with people of all ages.