David L. Richards
With a little work, you can see all seven planets in March. With a lot of work, you can also see the ex-planet Pluto.
Start off on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. On the western horizon lies Mercury, and on a line extending up to Orion’s bright kneecap, Rigel, you will see Uranus 4 degrees above Mercury. You’ll probably need binoculars to spot Uranus at magnitude 5.93, which is close to the limit of unaided vision.
Continuing up that line, Venus shines brilliantly in Pisces, the Fish, with Jupiter above in Aries, the Ram. Then look 12 degrees above the horizon right in the east and you’ll see Mars in Leo, the Lion. Saturn rises at 10:05 p.m. on Thursday, near Spica in Virgo.
Neptune will have to wait until the end of the month, at 5:50 a.m., on the east-southeast horizon in Aquarius. Again binoculars will be necessary as the greenish planet shines only at magnitude 7.95.
Now for the difficult task of spotting Pluto. Throughout the month Pluto lies within a degree and a half of Messier Object 25, an open star cluster in Sagittarius. The last week of March, the moon is below the horizon by 4 a.m., and with a 16-inch aperture telescope at 625 magnification and a really good star chart with clear, dark skies, you will see Pluto.
This can indeed be achieved from this area, as I recently received a photo (using a smaller scope) from former colleague and excellent amateur astronomer Jason Shinn. You may wish to check out his comprehensive and extremely useful website at www.truemartian.com.
Over the first dozen days of March, Venus approaches Jupiter, and on March 12 the king and queen of the planets may strike us as a pair of bright eyes in the west, only 3 degrees apart below the Pleiades (Seven Sisters). Venus will appear to be an additional Sister on March 31, again only 3 degrees separating them. On the third of April, Venus will be right amongst the Sisters.
On March 26, Venus and the waxing crescent moon will be well within the field of a pair of 7 x 50 binoculars.
Daylight saving time begins on March 11, and the spring equinox is March 20.
Mark your calendars for June 5. We will experience a transit of Venus across the sun, and we are enlisting local astronomy clubs to assist us in helping the public view this rare event on the McKinley Monument plaza. We’ll provide additional information next month.
Q: How many stars can I see with the naked eye? How many more will I be able to see with binoculars? — R.K., Massillon
A: If you use the limiting stellar magnitude of 6 for the human eye, under ideal conditions you should see about 5,300 stars, half of them from any point on Earth.
The eye has, at full dark adaptation, a maximum diameter of about 9 millimeters. A pair of 7 x 50 binoculars has a 50-?millimeter objective lens. Therefore, the binoculars give you about 31 times the light-gathering power of your eye, which will allow you to see stars down to magnitude 10.3. Now you can see 626,000 stars, or about 313,000 from any point on Earth. That should keep you busy for a while.
The Hoover-Price Planetarium will present Apophis at 1 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays in March. Apophis has been called “the doomsday asteroid.” We will investigate these claims and what astronomers have learned about this space rock. The planetarium is included with admission to the McKinley Presidential Library & Museum. Call 330-455-7043.
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.