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What's In the Sky: March brings two full Moons

March, the year’s third month, brings two full Moons in 2018, a morning planetary lineup, the return of daylight savings time, and more!

Yes, once again (as in January) we have two full Moons in the month of March. Neither features a lunar eclipse.

The second is called a “blue Moon” as we also had in January. That has nothing to do color, and I’ve wondered where the term originated. So, I did a little research. According to a professor at the University of Newfoundland, Philip Hiscock, the term was used by Cardinal Wolsey, an advisor to Henry VIII. Per Hiscock, “Cardinal Wolsey writes about his intellectual enemies who ‘would have you believe the Moon is blue.”

From there, the blue Moon was eventually linked with the occasional fourth full Moon in a quarter year.

In 1946, an article in “Sky and Telescope” magazine erroneously referred to it as the second full Moon in a month. That description has stuck. Alas, the Moon’s color is no different than any other full Moon, but it makes for an interesting story.

We are starting to see bright planets return to the evening sky in March. This month will feature Venus and Mercury, visible low in the west after sunset. As the month progresses, both will climb higher into the western sky.

By the middle of the month, Mercury will be as high as it gets, about 18 degrees above the horizon. Brighter Venus will be below and left of Mercury. By March 21, they will again be about the same height in the sky, with Venus continuing to climb, and Mercury beginning to drop toward the Sun.

Late in the month, Mercury will get lost in the Sun’s glare, but Venus should be an easily visible “evening start” the entire month.

Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn are still in the morning sky. Look to the south before sunup, and you’ll find the three of them forming almost a straight line in the sky. Jupiter will be pretty much due south. On the 10th, the Moon will be between Mars and Saturn, and on the 11th to the left of Saturn. Later in the month, you may notice that Mars is approaching Saturn. By the end of the month, Mars will be very close to Saturn in our sky and will move past the ringed planet in early April.

A relatively faint but familiar constellation graces our northern skies the entire year – Ursa Minor. The “Little Bear” or “Little Dipper” lies near its more famous cousin, Ursa Major, the “Great Bear” which includes the Big Dipper.

Ursa Minor contains a very important star, Polaris. The “north star” sits almost exactly at the north celestial pole, above the Earth’s North Pole. Its location above the pole also means that it doesn’t appear to move as the Earth rotates. All the other stars appear to move across the sky as our planet spins on its axis, except for stationary Polaris.

In addition to helping locate due north, Polaris helps determine latitude, the distance from the Equator or pole. At the equator (zero degrees latitude), Polaris is on the horizon. At the North Pole (90 degrees latitude), Polaris is directly overhead, 90 degrees from the horizon. Here in our area, Polaris is about halfway up in the sky. Sailors can determine their latitude by measuring how high Polaris is above the horizon.

Enjoy March Skies!


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