By Calvin L. Chrisman
The residents of the Presbyterian Home for Children are budding astronomers. Two weeks ago, for the second time in a year, members of the Asheville Astronomy Club staged a star party for the kids. After a previous event, the school’s science club had bought a five-inch Newtonian reflector. (The original design was conceived by Sir Isaac Newton, thus the name.) The school also has two smaller refractors that had been donated earlier. Members of the Asheville Astronomy Club brought a ten-inch computer-controlled “go-to” scope and two sets of high powered binoculars mounted on tripods for steady astronomical viewing. Using all of these instruments as well as their naked eyes, young astronomers, ranging from elementary school to high school age, learned the winter constellations; viewed the mountains and craters of the moon; saw Mars at its closest; and observed the Pleiades and some deep sky objects such as the Orion Nebula. Astronomy enthusiasts all over Western North Carolina have been frustrated all winter by cloudy nights, but this evening was clear, but cold.
It was pleasing to see the excitement and curiosity of these young people as they learned something about the wonders of the night sky. With any luck, they will retain this interest for life. Who knows, maybe some of them will pursue a career in science and someday discover the next great insight in cosmology.
Last month, we said goodbye for a while to Jupiter as it followed the Sun in the evening sky. It is now passing behind the Sun during the daytime and will begin to emerge into the dawn sky by the end of March. In the meantime, Venus, the true evening star, begins to emerge at sunset. It will be low in the sky at first, but will climb higher as the month progresses. Although Venus has phases similar to the Moon, at present it will be a fairly uninteresting disk when viewed through a telescope. Mars, which reached its closest at the end of January, is fast receding during March. At the beginning of the month, it will still be quite bright and can be found in the early evening near the zenith (the point directly over your head) forming a zigzag line with Castor and Pollux in Gemini.
The spring equinox occurs at 1:32 pm EDT on March 20th. Note the beginning of spring by looking west that day to observe the waxing crescent Moon pass by the Pleiades. If you happen to be in South America on that date, take your telescope and you can watch the Moon cover up some of the bright stars in the Pleiades. Don’t forget to set your watch ahead for daylight savings time on Sunday, March 14th.