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An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988

NIGHT SKIES

Enjoy our starry night skies

Be a considerate neighbor: Reduce nighttime glare.
Shield your outside lights downward, so no glare goes up to dull the night sky (or into your neighbor’s windows) and enjoy the beautiful, stars above.

March night sky

March 2008 Night Sky

—CHARLIE CHRISTMANN

ECLIPSE BUST

Well, the Lunar Eclipse on February 20 was mired in clouds. Too bad, the next total eclipse will not be until 2010.

OUR GALACTIC SUBURBS

“They” say it is lonely in the wild open spaces. As far as our galactic neighborhood is concerned, we live in near isolation. Within a distance of twelve light-years (70.5 trillion miles), there are only twenty-six known stars.

Compare our relative isolation to a star cluster like the Pleiades. This cluster is thought to contain more than a thousand stars within a radius of forty-two light-years. The main core, containing the seven brightest stars plus many we cannot see, is only about eight light-years across.

Of our twenty-six neighbors, only a handful are actually visible to the naked eye, but many others are binocular targets. So, here is the list and some information about a few of our galactic companions.

The most distant of this group include such notable names as CoD -36 15693 at 11.7 light-years and the double star BD +59 1915 A and B at 11.6 light-years.

Next in line are Procyon A and B (double star) at 11.4 light years. Procyon, the pair, even at this distance, is the eighth brightest star in the sky. Look for it in the Canis Minoris constellation.

Luyten 789-6, BD +43 44 A and B, and Epsilon Indus are about 11.2 light-years away, while 61 Cygnus A and B are 11.1 light-years distant. Luyten 789-6 is a triple star system consisting of three red dwarfs. You’ll need a telescope to find these dim stars in Aquarius. Epsilon Indi is the fifth brightest star in Indus, the Indian, and is visible with the naked eye. Epsilon Indi is moving fast across the sky. Within a few thousand years, it will have moved out of the Indus constellation and into neighboring constellation Tucana, the Toucan.

The red dwarf Ross 128 is about 10.9 light-years away and is the closest star in the constellation Virgo. Epsilon Eridani is next on our list at 10.8 light-years and has a known planet, about 1.5 times the size of Jupiter, orbiting it. Two more notably named stars, Ross 248 and Ross 154, come in at 10.4 and 9.4 light-years.

Sirius, the brightest star in our night sky, is actually a binary. At 8.6 light-years, Sirius A is twenty-five times brighter than our sun. Sirius B is a white dwarf only about the diameter of the Earth with almost the mass of our sun crushed inside that small space. Sirius B orbits A about every fifty years.

Luyten 726-8 A and B, a double star in the Cetus constellation, is 8.4 light-years away. Luyten 726-8 B is a known flare star that goes through extreme changes of brightness. For instance, in 1952, its brightness increased by seventy-five times in only twenty seconds.

BD +36 2147 is the next in line at 8.2 light-years, followed by Wolf 359 at 7.9 light-years in the constellation Leo. Star Trek fans may know this star as the location of the fictional massacre of the Federation by the Borg. It is an extremely faint red dwarf and too dim to be seen with the naked eye. It is also another flare star.

Barnard’s Star, the third closest to us today, is only 6.0 light-years distant and is located in the Constellation Ophiuchus, the Serpent Holder. This dim red dwarf star is known for its extremely fast motion across the sky. In fact, it is heading in this general direction at eighty-seven miles per second. It should pass the sun about the year 11,800 and miss us by only 3.8 light-years.

Number two and number one on our closest list are controversial. Alpha Centari—which again, is actually a binary—at 4.3 light-years, is the brightest star in the southern hemisphere. Proxima Centauri, which is 4.2 light-years away, is actually thought to be a part of the Alpha Centauri system. Proxima may be in orbit around the other two, with a period on the order of half a million years or more. If humans decide to venture to another star, Alpha Centauri is surely on the short list.

THE PLANETS AND THE MOON

• Mercury is a morning star seen about thirty minutes before sunrise in the east-southeast.

• Venus is also a morning star, shining brightly low in the east before sunrise near Mercury. Check the Moon on the 5th as it joins Venus and Mercury.

• Mars can be found high in the south after sunset. Mars and the Moon almost seem to collide on the evening of the 14th in the southern sky an hour after sunset.

• Jupiter also rises about 4:30 a.m. in the east. The Moon joins Jupiter on the 3rd about forty-five minutes before sunrise near the southeastern horizon. The Moon and Jupiter again have a conjunction on the 30th near the southeast horizon.

• Saturn will be rising in the east-southeast after sunset. The Moon and Regulus form a nice line-up on the 18th. Regulus is between the Moon and Saturn an hour after sunset in the east-southeast.

• The Moon is new on the 7th. The New Moon coincides with Good Friday on March 21st. The Moon is new at 12:40 a.m. MDT. Easter is the first Sunday after the first Full Moon after the Vernal Equinox. This year, it is almost as early as it can be in the year. The Vernal Equinox is on Thursday the 19th; at exactly 11:48 p.m., the Sun will be directly over the equator. Easter follows on Sunday the 23rd.

• Remember to change your clocks to Daylight Savings Time on the 9th.

If you have a question or comment for Charlie, you may email him at: k5cec@yahoo.com.

 


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