StarWatch: Moravian College Astronomy
StarWatch for the greater Lehigh Valley

MARCH  2000


184   MARCH 5, 2000:     Changing Sky
As we enter into the month of March, there is an air of expectancy. The days are considerably longer, and Sol is noticeably higher in the sky. When you get into a car thatís been sitting in the sun for several hours, the seats are comfortably warm. But donít think winterís over quite yet. March can also bring some of the most variable weather as witnessed by the St. Patrickís Day Blizzard of 1993. The nighttime skies are changing too. As it gets dark, the winter constellations are beginning to crowd into the southwest, pressing ever closer to their demise, the horizon. And to the east there is a curious absence of bright stars, a sure sign of spring. In the early evening the Big Dipper is high in the northeast. Its handle arches towards the horizon, and if bare-branched trees do not interfere, to the warm-colored star, Arcturus. The two top pointer stars, Dubhe and Merak, can be followed left to the 49th brightest star of the sky. Itís called SAO 308, Hipparchus 11767, Alpha Ursae Minoris, Polaris, or to most of us, simply the North Star. Stretch the pointers in the opposite direction, and youíll find Leo, the Lion and the Sickle, the backwards question mark which outlines Leoís head. It is currently in the same position as it was seen during the early morning hours of last November when the Leonid meteors flew. The Earth has completed nearly one third of its circuit around the sun since then. In the west, about 7:00 p.m., keep a watch for the thin crescent moon to be next to Mars on Wednesday, across from Jupiter on Thursday, and above Saturn by Friday evening. Look now, for these planets will also vanish with the exiting of winter. Sky maps can be found at the web site below.

Planets visible

Big Dipper, Polaris, and Leo

185   MARCH 12, 2000:     The Frog Sisters
The Indians tell a story about two sisters who were frogs. They lived in a swamp by a lake. Not far away lived two handsome men, Snake and Beaver. When Snake asked one of the Frog Sisters to marry him, she refused, calling him bad names like, "you slimy fellow" and "squinty eyes." Then Beaver went to the house of the Frog Sisters and asked the other one to marry him. But she responded similarly, calling Beaver, "buck toothed," " big belly," and "flapper tail." Beaver was so hurt that he went home and cried. "Donít cry," said his father, "it will rain too much." But Beaver cried even harder. Soon the swamp became flooded and the Frog Sisters grew cold. They went to the father of Snake and Beaver and agreed to marry. But the father said no, because the Frog Sisters had been rude to his sons. The floodwaters carried the Frog Sisters up to the Moon. The Moon invited them into his house to warm themselves by the fire. But again, the Frog Sisters refused. "We donít want to sit by the fire," they insisted. "We want to sit on your forehead." And with that, they jumped on the face of the Moon, ruining his good looks. With binoculars you can easily see the Frog Sisters. At present, the jumping Frog Sister--head, body, and all four legs can be seen as the interconnected region of all the dark seas visible. Only Mare Crisium, circular and isolated, near the moonís limb will not be part of the frog. As the week progresses the other Frog Sister will be revealed by the huge, circular Imbrium basin immediately to the left of the head of the other jumping sister. This frog is sitting on a lily pad with its legs tucked underneath its body. See pictures of the Frog Sisters on the moon at the web address below.

The Frog Sisters

186   MARCH 19, 2000:     Bright Stars of Late Winter
Even with the full moon on Monday, you will still be able to see some of the brightest stars of the nighttime sky. Go out at 8:00 p.m. Remember that the North Star ranks as the 49th brightest star, if the sun is included. It is famous for not moving; the stars and planets appear to wheel around it, a reflection of our Earthís rotation. Also remember that bright Jupiter low in the west gets its light from the sun. But to Jupiterís left and above are some really bright stars. In the SSW is Sirius, twinkling blue white, only 8.6 light years from us. It is the brightest star of the night. Follow to your right, and youíll come to Orionís three belt stars. They do not rank among the top 25 brightest. The reddish star above the belt, Betelgeuse, does. It stands as 9th brightest of the night. To the right and down a little is Bellatrix, the 24th brightest. Opposite Betelgeuse in Orion is blue-white Rigel at 7th. Following Orionís belt to the right leads one to the 13th brightest star Aldebaran, in Taurus, the Bull. Above Orion, Sirius, and Aldebaran are three more stars in the top 25. The two above Orion which are close together are l. to r. Pollux (17th) and Caster. Caster does not make it in our ranking. However to Casterís right is Capella of Auriga, the Charioteer at 6th brightest, and on the other side of the Gemini Twins, Procyon of the Little Dog is 8th brightest. If you wait until 10 p.m., youíll catch 3rd ranked Arcturus of Bootes, the Headsman in the east and Spica of Virgo, the Virgin, to Arcturusí right. Spica ranks as the 14th brightest star of the night. High above Spica is Leoís Regulus, ranked as the 20th brightest star. These are all highlighted on the StarWatch maps at the web address below.

Bright Stars
Some of the brightest stars are visible in the southwest in late March at 8:00 p.m.

Bright Stars
Some of the brightest stars visible in the east in late March at 10:00 p.m.
The boxed area represents Coma Berenices. See the March 26th StarWatch.

187   MARCH 26, 2000:     How Canon Saved His Head
Leo, the Lion, now prominent in the east just after dark, was originally an Egyptian constellation. See Leoís location on the star map for last weekís StarWatch at the web address below. Leo possesses a head and body, much like the Egyptian sphinx. However, originally Leo had a tail which rose above his body and was capped by a tuff of hair. The tuff was composed of a "V" shaped grouping of stars which sparkled faintly, almost like a bright patch of Milky Way. Today, what was Leoís tail is another constellation, Coma Berenices. How the lion lost his tail is the subject of some myth and probably some truth. When Ptolemy III (282?-221 BC), was called off to war, his wife Berenice consulted with their royal astronomer, Canon, as to the gift she could offer upon her husbandís safe return. Canon responded that Bereniceís long and beautiful tresses would be an appropriate gesture. And so upon Ptolemyís return two years later, Berenice cut off her hair and offered it as thanks at the altar of Venus. That very night it was stolen, and Canon was summoned to court to explain his ill advice. He was to be executed. But alas, Canon used his head to save his head. For the story continues that he pointed into the heavens at what was then the lionís tail, a nebulous region composed of many faint stars. He explained to Ptolemy and Berenice that Venus had been so honored by the queenís gift, that the hair had ascended into the heavens to be cherished forever as a constellation. And so the lion lost his tail and Canonís advice continued to be sought. Use binoculars to locate the hair of Berenice which is on the Leo side of the two stars which mark the end of the Dipperís handle and the Lion, respectively.

March Star Map

March Moon Phase Calendar