Look, Up in the Sky ...
Thursday’s near-full moon shines below the bright star Regulus, the heart of Leo the lion. This star, 77 light years away, has four times the girth, burns more than twice as hot and is more than 100 times brighter than our sun.
By Saturday the moon is full, and like all full moons, it rises as the sun sets, around 7:30 on this day. Aligned as they are, with earth in between the two, the gravitational pull of both sun and moon work in conjunction to produce the highest and lowest tides each month. But we’re likely to see far more extreme tides around this full moon, as it is at perigree — its closest to earth for the year. Adding even more to the equation is vernal equinox, which falls the next day. Commonly called the Worm Moon and the Sap Moon, with all these factors at play, this March full moon is a Super Moon, astronomers say.
Sunday ushers in spring for us in the Northern Hemisphere as the sun hovers directly above the equator, hence the word equinox. Just as earth’s equator divides the planet in two, the celestial equator — an imaginary line projected from the equator into space — divides the heavens into two hemispheres. For the past six months, the sun has traveled a path south of the celestial equator. Now, for the next six months, it will reside north of that line, basking us in more sunlight and warmer days.
As the sun sets at 7:17 on the first evening of spring, the moon appears above the southeast horizon with golden Saturn less than 10 degrees above and blue-white Spica trailing three degrees behind.
Following close on the heels of the setting sun, Jupiter joins Mercury a dozen degrees above the west horizon. Jupiter is the brighter of the two but also closer to the horizon. At week’s end they are just a few degrees apart, but as Jupiter sets earlier each night, Mercury climbs a little higher into the sky.