March brings spring, daylight savings

March brings daylight savings time, and spring arrives March 20.

It is hard to believe that March is already here; it seems the year has just begun. Spring is almost here, and the switch to daylight savings time is coming soon.

March also brings warmer weather—sometimes!  

Daylight savings time begins on March 10. Remember to “spring ahead” by setting your clocks forward an hour. “DST” was first proposed by a New Zealand entomologist, who figured he would have more spare time after work for collecting insects with later sunsets.

That never came to pass. But Germany instituted the notion during World War I as a way to cut down on their use of coal in wartime. In 1918, the U.S. and other countries adopted it.

Daylight savings became even more common in World War II and during the 1970s energy crisis. It is observed in most of the U.S., save for the states of Arizona and Hawaii and some overseas territories (mostly tropical) and other locations.

Near the equator, day length does not change much from summer to winter, minimizing DST’s supposed value. Current bills in a number of state legislatures, including Washington’s, propose to move to DST year-round. I am pretty sure that would require federal approval.

Spring arrives on March 20, when the Sun lies above the equator and day and night length are about equal. This year, that is also the date of the full Moon.

March 20’s full Moon is another “Supermoon,” a relatively new moniker attached to those instances when the Moon is a bit closer than average in its orbit around the Earth. It will be slightly larger than on average, but not enough that many will notice. Advertising a “Supermoon” does bring more interest to Earth’s satellite, which I think is good.

But don’t be fooled by pictures of an enormous Moon rising over trees—that is accomplished with telephoto lenses. Take out a soda straw, and look at the full Moon through it. You’ll be able to see the entire Moon in the straw, even a during Supermoon.

The New Moon comes early in the month, on March 6.

On the 11th, you’ll find Mars just to the right of the Moon in the evening sky. The Moon will be next to the Pleiades star cluster on the 11th and next to the Hyades cluster on the 12th.

(The Hyades is an “open star cluster” composed of about 100 stars that all are about the same age and makeup. They make an interesting sight, combining with the bright star Aldebaran nearby to form the head of the constellation Taurus, the Bull. The Hyades are one of the nearest star clusters to our solar system, being “only” about 150 light years distant.)

March 3rd brings a bit of history—it’s the 50-year anniversary of the launch of Apollo 9, back in 1969. Its success, and that of Apollo 10 in May, paved the way for the historic first Moon landing that July.

Apollo 9 was the first mission in which the Lunar Module, the spacecraft that would eventually land on the Moon, was tested in Earth orbit. Astronauts tested the engines of the module and practiced docking with the Command Module, the craft that brought the astronauts back to Earth.

Later that year I was able to hear a talk by David Scott, one of the Apollo 9 astronauts, who described the flight at the University of Michigan. I still remember what an exciting time it was, when an attempt to land on the Moon was coming soon.

The only planet easily visible in March’s evening sky will be Mars. And the red planet is growing fainter. On March 1, Mars will be about 165 million miles from Earth, and that will stretch to about 188 million miles by the end of the month.

When Mars was closest last summer, it was about 36 million miles from us. Quite a difference!

There is another planet visible in early March—Mercury. The closest planet to the Sun will be low in the west after sunset, and is best viewed the first week of March. Mercury is actually pretty bright, but is always near the Sun, and can get lost in the Sun’s glare.

A clear view of the western horizon is necessary. Be sure to look right after sunset.

Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus are all prominent in the morning sky in March, forming a line of bright “stars” in the southeast and south. A nice sight will occur on March 1, when the waning crescent Moon will lie very near Saturn. Saturn will be just to the left of the Moon.

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