Sky Watch

Some of Spring's Beauty Is Overhead

By Blaine P. Friedlander Jr.
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, March 30, 2008

With the cherry blossoms and early spring's other bursting colors capturing attention, don't forget the heavenly wonders:

Saturn and Mars entertain in the evenings now, and Jupiter can be seen in the mornings.

At sunset, find Saturn in the constellation Leo, high in the southeastern sky. By about 10 p.m., this large, ringed planet stands very high in the south as it appears at zero magnitude (bright enough to see from urban, light-polluted areas).

There is plenty of time to catch Saturn, because it is up virtually all night. If you have a telescope, enjoy watching the rings as Earth gets closer to the plane where Saturn's rings appear "edge on" -- in September 2009 -- to us.

It descends toward the western horizon in the early morning, setting about 5 a.m.

Our reddish neighbor, Mars, sits high in the south in the constellation Gemini at sunset, holding court with stars Castor and Pollux. If you watch the planet's movement, you will notice it scooting toward Pollux next month.

Although Mars has appeared to get dimmer over the past few months -- there is more distance between Earth and the red planet -- it is a first magnitude object (bright enough to see from the city) and can be observed above and to the left of the constellation Orion.

Jupiter ascends the eastern heavens about 3:30 a.m., near the constellation Sagittarius. You can spot Jupiter in the south-southeast just before sunrise. In terms of brightness, it's negative second magnitude: quite an impressive, brilliant object and easy to see.

Down-to-Earth Events

April 1-- Nolan Walborn of the Space Telescope Science Institute, who studies ultraviolet spectra of stars, will lecture at the institute's auditorium, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. 8 p.m. Information: http://hubblesite.org/about_us/public-talks.shtml.

April 5-- Astronomer Matthew Knight discusses "The Contributions of Ancient Astronomers to Modern Day Astronomy," at an open house at the University of Maryland Observatory, College Park. Telescope viewing afterward, if the skies are clear. 8 p.m. Information: 301-405-6555; http://www.astro.umd.edu/openhouse.

April 5-- "Exploring the Sky" at Rock Creek Park, hosted by the National Capital Astronomers and the National Park Service. Meet near the Nature Center in the field south of Military and Glover roads NW. 8:30 p.m. Information: 202-895-6070.

April 12-- "Celebrating 400 Years of the Telescope," a Family Day event at the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly. Find out how telescopes are made, learn how to buy one and see homemade telescopes. 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is free. Parking is $12. Information: http://www.nasm.si.edu.


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