David L. Richards

The celestial highlight next month is the encounter of Jupiter with the nearly full moon, separated by only 2 degrees on March 21.

Jupiter shines at magnitude –2.5, 2˝ times brighter than the brightest star, Sirius. Jupiter rises on Tuesday at 7:45 a.m., preceded by Mars at 1:36 a.m., Saturn at 3 a.m. and Venus at 7 a.m.

You should be able to spot Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter spread across the morning sky about 7:20 a.m. over the first week or so of March. Mercury gets lost in the sun’s glare this month, as do Uranus and Neptune.

The waxing crescent moon and Aldebaran, in Taurus, are only about 4 degrees apart on March 14, and in April the moon will actually cross in front of the eye of the Bull, occulting the bright red star for nearly an hour.

For a period of two weeks beginning March 25, you may be able to see the zodiacal light after evening twilight. This is the very faint, diffuse triangular glow that extends up from the area of the sun along the ecliptic (the plane of the planets). Sometimes called the false dusk, the zodiacal light is sunlight reflecting off dust grains circling the sun that are left over from the creation of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago.

You’ll need a very clear night and very dark spot to see it.

Daylight Saving Time begins on March 13, so remember to set your clocks ahead that night. The spring, or vernal equinox occurs on March 20, and the length of day and night is nearly equal.

If you happen to be in the Pacific Ocean on March 9, you’ll see a total solar eclipse, or you can wait until August 2017 to watch one here.

Q&A

Q: What are these gravity waves I see in the news? — R.H., Akron

A: Gravity waves are the result of the interaction between two large bodies. They propagate as ripples in spacetime traveling outward from that source.

One hundred years ago, Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves, but believed that they were too weak to detect. Just recently, scientists at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, or LIGO, detected these minute ripples in the curvature of spacetime.

They arrived at Earth from a cataclysmic event in the distant universe, and were produced 1.3 billion years ago during the final fraction of a second of the merger of two black holes. That merger produced a single, more massive spinning black hole, and transmitted energy as gravitational radiation.

To detect the wave, LIGO monitored the precise distance between two separate laser light beams traveling 2.4 miles to note the infinitesimal change between the lengths of the laser beams as the wave passed.

That amounted to a distance less than the diameter of the nucleus of an atom, or about 10-19 meters.

LIGO has therefore confirmed a major prediction of Albert Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity and has provided physicists with new insights into our universe.

Programs

The planetarium offers an adult astronomy program at 2 p.m. on the first Monday of every month. The Night Sky show is presented, then participants engage in a 30- to 45-minute open lecture/discussion, driven by the audience’s interests and questions concerning astronomy and cosmology.

The regular planetarium show, The Universe at Large, is presented at 1 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. It is included with admission to the museum. Children must be 5 years or older to attend.

David L. Richards is director of the Hoover-Price Planetarium at the McKinley Presidential Library and Museum, 800 McKinley Monument Drive NW, Canton, www.mckinleymuseum.org. He can be reached at 330-455-7043, email hooverpriceplanetarium@hotmail.com or read his blog at https://hooverpriceplanetarium.wordpress.com/.