Jupiter remains in the western sky all month, setting at 1:30 a.m. on the first.
Change your clocks on March 10, moving them ahead by one hour, as daylight saving time begins, or else you’ll be late to work on Monday morning.
On March 17, Jupiter and the waxing crescent moon will be separated by only two degrees. Venus and Mars will be lost in the sun’s light in March, but Mercury — accompanied by Uranus — will sit right on the western horizon at 8 p.m. on March 18.
On March 28, Saturn will rise 1½ hours before midnight in the east-southeast only 4 degrees from the waning gibbous moon. March 20 is the spring equinox, and day and night will be of equal duration.
Comet PANSTARRS may be a splendid sight this month. My computer simulation shows it to be quite conspicuous at dusk from March 5 through the next 10 days, moving from Cetus, through Pisces and into Andromeda.
Now visible through binoculars in the southern hemisphere, heat from the sun is vaporizing the comet’s icy core and creating a visible fan-shaped tail. But astronomer David Levy has said: “Comets are like cats; they have tails, and they do precisely what they want.” Therefore, dependent upon PANSTARRS’ interaction with the sun, we may see a spectacular comet.
With or without the tail, the comet should be visible into April, and on April 4 appear less than 3 degrees from the Andromeda Galaxy. Don’t miss it! The comet, formally known as C/2011 L4 was discovered by the Pan-STARRS telescope on the island of Maui.
Pan-STARRS (Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System) is an array of cameras that continuously survey the sky, and is expected to discover heretofore-unknown asteroids and comets that may threaten impact events on Earth.
Q: Why didn’t astronomers see that meteor coming before it hit Russia?
— R.K., Akron
A: Even at 55 feet across and weighing 10,000 tons, it was too small to have been seen with present technology. NASA released a study last year indicating there are nearly 5,000 PHAs, or “potentially hazardous asteroids” 330 feet or larger whose orbits come near the Earth’s.
New techniques — such as Pan-STARRS — will help to give us some warning in the future. The chance of spotting such small bodies as the Chelyabinsk Meteor soon enough to sound a warning will probably remain very difficult, if not impossible.
The Hoover-Price Planetarium is presenting Dave & Dr. Jimmy Visit Greenbank through April 28. This is the fourth of D&D show with me, the planetarium director, and Dr. James Rudick wandering and wondering at technology around the country. This program features the enormous and beautiful radio telescopes in Greenbank, W.Va.
Shows are 1 and 2 p.m. Saturdays. Admission to the planetarium is included with admission to the McKinley Presidential Library & Museum. Call 330-455-7043 for more information.
David L. Richards is director of the Hoover-Price Planetarium at the McKinley Presidential Library and Museum, 800 McKinley Monument Drive NW, Canton, 44708, www.mckinleymuseum.org. He can be reached at 330-455-7043 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.