Skywatching This Week: March 11-17

[Note: I apologize for being late with Skywatching this week. It’s been pretty miserable for observing anything in Chicago recently; I can only remember one or two clear nights in the last two weeks.]

Sun and Moon

In Chicago, the SUN sets this week between 6:53 pm and 7:00 pm Central Daylight Time and rises between 7:09 am and 6:59 am Central Daylight Time. The MOON is new on Monday and continues into its waxing crescent phase the rest of the week. On Tuesday, it sets at 8:11 pm Central Daylight Time, and by the end of the week it sets after midnight.

Look for the very thin crescent moon in the west shortly after sunset on Tuesday night. If the sky is clear and if you can find a spot with a clear horizon, you might be able to spot a comet near the moon! More on this tomorrow. Unfortunately, the Chicago weather forecast isn’t favorable.

Planets

JUPITER is visible in the evening in the southwest; it doesn’t set until after midnight. SATURN now rises before 11:00 pm; it is also easily seen in the southwest before sunrise.

Evening Commute

The bright star REGULUS is visible in the east as soon as it gets dark after sunset.

The bright star Regulus is in the east after sunset (Screengrab: Stellarium).
The bright star Regulus is in the east after sunset (Screengrab: Stellarium).

The constellation Orion can be seen in the South after sunset. It features the bright stars BETELGEUSE (the red-orange star on the top left) and RIGEL (the blue-white star on the lower right). You can use Orion (and it’s three-star “belt”) to help guide you to other features in the night sky: the planet JUPITER and the bright stars ALDEBARAN, CAPELLA, SIRIUS, PROCYON, and POLLUX. See the February 25 Skywatching.

Other Bright Stars

Spring is approaching (though you wouldn’t know it from Chicago’s weather), and we are beginning to see a new set of stars come into view. A few hours after sunset, the bright stars ARCTURUS (at about 9:00 pm) and SPICA (at about 10:00 pm) rise in the east. The planet SATURN rises around 11:00 pm, and it isn’t far from SPICA. If you’re up late, you’ll see it low in the east. More on this trio in the coming weeks; they will be rising earlier and earlier in the evening.

Also, if you look to the northeast, you should be able to see the Big Dipper. It has been low in the sky all winter, but it is starting to appear above buildings and trees. By late evening, you can see the dipper hanging almost vertically, the “bowl” pointing left and the “handle” pointing downward to the horizon. The arc of the handle points to the star ARCTURUS (once it rises above the horizon). This is where the phrase, “Follow the arc to Arcturus,” comes from.

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