The Leo Triplet (M66 Group of Galaxies). Credit: REU program/NOAO/
A full moon ushers February out this weekend. If the full moon, which occurs at 11:38 a.m. EST on February 28, had arrived several hours later, the month of February would have passed without a full moon. Because a lunar month is 29 ½ days long, occasionally a full moon does not occur in February. This last happened in 1999 and will occur again in 2018. (Or not occur, as the case may be.) As you might have already guessed, January and March of 2018 will both have blue moons, or a second full moon in the month.
March may bring fewer hours of darkness but it also brings a lot for stargazers to see. Venus will become easy to find as it climbs out of the salmon skies of sunset. Reddish Mars is close to overhead and yellowish Saturn is rising in the east in the early evening. The end of March will be the best time all year to catch Mercury as it closes in on Venus in the west.
There is an old meteorological saying that if March comes in like a lion it will go out like a lamb. I won’t try to forecast the weather, but I can guarantee you a lion in early March. Every year the beginning of March brings with it the constellation of Leo the Lion. Leo rises in the east as the sky darkens. Leo is one of the easier constellations to pick out from the starry background. Make sure your eyes have adjusted to the dark and you are not in a light-polluted location. Looking east after the sky is dark, find six stars in the shape of a backward question mark. The brightest of the six is Regulus, the point at the bottom. This “sickle” shape denotes the head of Leo. To the left of the head are three stars that form a triangle, marking the hindquarters of the lion. Spring skies are associated with galaxies, and the constellations of Leo and Virgo (the maiden which rises after the lion) are filled with great galactic targets. The Leo Triplet, seen in the image here, is located on the hind leg of the lion. The three galaxies all lie within a half degree of each other. Scan the region between Leo and Virgo with a moderate-sized telescope to capture other galactic beauties.
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Kelly Kizer Whitt loves clean, clear, and dark skies. Kelly studied English and Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for Astronomy magazine. She is currently the Feature Writer for Astronomy and Space at Suite101.com. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com