Constellation Turnover Time
As the Earth continues on its never ending journey, orbiting around the sun month after month and year after year, our evening view of the heavens is turning away from the bright winter constellations and toward the less than awesome spring star patterns on the rise in the east. The bright winter constellations are still hanging in there in the west, but this is their swan song. Next month most of them will be gone below the western horizon and we won't see them in the evening again until late next fall. To be truly honest with you, many amateur astronomers, including this star watching lover, agree that until the summer constellations like Cygnus and Scorpio make their appearance we are officially in the spring doldrums of evening stargazing.
Despite the fact that we're kind of in the stargazing doldrums, it's still worth your time to make the stars your old friends. For one thing, it's a heck of a lot more comfortable out there and the mosquitoes haven't even begun warming up in the bullpen.
Without a doubt, the best thing to gaze at through your telescope this month is the planet Jupiter, still sandwiched in the constellation Gemini the Twins in the high southwest at the end of evening twilight. Even though it's a little farther away at nearly 490 million miles and not quite as bright as it was at the start of 2014, it's still a wonderful telescope target. Even with a smaller scope you can see up to four of Jupiter's brighter moons depending on where they are in their individual orbits around the big guy of the solar system. You might also see a few cloud bands on Jupiter.
The Big Dipper is as high as it gets in the sky and it's upside down. The old lore about the upside down Big Dipper is that it means we get more rain because the Dipper is unloading on us. It's easy to see how that rumor got started in the days of old because, at least in the upper Midwest, we get most of our rainfall in the late spring and early summer.
Use the "pointer stars" on the pot section of the Big Dipper opposite the handle to find Polaris, the North Star. Polaris is about three fist-widths at arm's length down from the pointer stars. The North Star is the last star in the handle of the much dimmer Little Dipper. Polaris is also a very important star in our sky. Since it shines directly above the Earth's North Pole, all of the stars in our sky appear to revolve around the stationary North Star once every 24 hours as the Earth rotates on its axis.
Over in the eastern sky there's a sideways kite on the rise. It's the constellation Bootes, which according to the Greeks is supposed to be a farmer. Seeing Bootes as a farmer takes one heck of a sense of imagination. I prefer the easy way out on this one. Look for the sideways kite with the bright orange-tinged star Arcturus at the tail of the kite. Arcturus is easy to find. Not only is it the brightest star in that part of the sky, but you can also extend the arc made by the Big Dipper's handle to find it. Just arc to Arcturus!
There's even a brighter reddish star on the rise in the east, but that's no star. It's Mars, the closest it's been to Earth in almost two years! There's also going to be total lunar eclipse this month in the early morning hours of April 15th. It'll be the t first one in over two years! Stayed tuned for more on the great income tax day lunar cover up!