Leo – David Malin
Leo – David Malin©

by Gerald Rezes

The Vernal Equinox arrived at 8:50 pm (PDT) on March 19. The winter constellations are sinking into the west as the ones for spring are rising in the east. Spring constellations seem to lack the intensity of the winter ones but here are a few to keep in mind.

First off is Ursa Major which contains the more familiar asterism “The Big Dipper” (both not in the illustration). The Big Dipper is a familiar site to northern observers and offers several pointers to interesting objects. The two starts of the dipper point to Polaris the North Star. Just below the last star in the handle is M51, the brilliant Whirlpool Galaxy which is actually in the constellation Canes Venatici. Finally in the handle, a test of eyesight, the middle “star” actually consists of two stars: Alcor and Mizar both are multiple star systems themselves. The Big Dipper, the handle’s curve suggests a great path to several bright Spring stars. Following the handle’s arc, the first bright star is Arcturus in Boötes followed by Spica in Virgo.

Moon Phases

  • Mar. 24 – New Moon
  • Apr. 1 – First Quarter
  • Apr. 7 – Full Moon
  • Apr. 14 – Last Quarter
  • Apr. 22 – New Moon
  • Apr. 30 – First Quarter
  • May 7 – Full Moon
  • May 14 – Last Quarter
  • May 22 – New Moon
  • May 29 – First Quarter
  • Jun. 5 – Full Moon
  • Jun. 12 – First Quarter
  • (Source: Griffith Observatory)

Leo is probably one of the more familiar spring constellations. Leo is made up of a triangular grouping of stars for the lion’s hind quarters while the lion’s head and mane are represented by the backwards question mark. The bright star Regulus marks the “period” in the question mark.

Hydra is one of the fainter constellation but is actually the largest. Look for the serpent’s circular head in the west, just ahead of Leo, and the body winding its way down and to the east until it stops just under Spica.

Messier Marathon

There are 110 astronomical objects cataloged by Charles Messier. In spring particularly at the end of March, northern hemisphere observers are in the position to attempt to obverse all 110 Messier objects in one night. The Messier Marathon, is possible only at this time when the sun is positioned such that it is not obscuring any objects. Go about and try to find as many M numbers as you can. I personally like M104, the Sombrero Galaxy, a challenging object to spot from a suburban backyard.

Planets

  • Mercury is in the morning sky in March, transitions to an evening planet by May. It will be near Venus on May 21 & 22.
  • Venus is still in the evening sky for most of spring as visible in a telescope as a crescent. In May it will rapidly draw closer to its interior conjunction with the Sun on June 3.
  • Mars is a morning planet throughout spring. It will be near Saturn on April 1 and the crescent Moon April 15.
  • Jupiter is a morning planet close to Mars and Saturn. On March 20 it is in conjunction with Mars.
  • Saturn is in Capricornus in the morning with Jupiter nearby.
  • Uranus is too close to the Sun to observe. It is moving to the morning sky.
  • Neptune is too close to the Sun to observe. It is moving to the morning sky.
  • Pluto is in Sagittarius close to Saturn. It is a morning planet.
  • Comet C/2017 T2 PanSTARRS passes close to M81 and M82 on May 24.
  • Ref: https://www.skyatnightmagazine.com/advice/skills/astronomy-guide-viewing-planets-night-sky/