Leo – David Malin
Leo – David Malin©

by Gerald Rezes

The Vernal Equinox arrives at 2:37 am (PDT) on March 20. 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 stars 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’s handle 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. 21 – First Quarter
  • Mar. 28 – Full Moon
  • Apr. 4 – Last Quarter
  • Apr. 11 – New Moon
  • Apr. 19 – First Quarter
  • Apr. 26 – Full Moon
  • May 3 – Last Quarter
  • May 11 – New Moon
  • May 19 – First Quarter
  • May 26 – Full Moon
  • Jun. 2 – Last Quarter
  • Jun. 10 – New Moon
  • Jun. 17 – First Quarter
  • (Source: timeanddate.com)

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

Hydra is one of the fainter constellations 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 starts as a morning star then transitions to the evening by the end of April where it will be well-positioned for viewing and pairing with Venus.
  • Venus is the evening sky for spring. It is close to Mercury on May 28. It also is paired with a thin crescent moon in May and June.
  • Mars is dimming in the evening sunset. On April 26, it will be near M35, and the next day, the moon joins them.
  • Jupiter is a morning planet with a couple of moon pairs in spring.
  • Saturn is in Capricornus in the morning with Jupiter still nearby. It also has some moon encounters.
  • 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 and is a morning planet.
  • Ref: https://www.skyatnightmagazine.com/advice/skills/astronomy-guide-viewing-planets-night-sky/ & https://theskylive.com/pluto-info