Sunday: Even though Zubenelgenubi is the second brightest star in Libra, its name means Southern Claw in Arabic, an artifact of the time that it was considered part of Scorpius the scorpion. Zubenelgenubi is a visual binary, consisting of a white and yellow star that are about arc minutes apart from each other in the sky. This is about the same angular diameter of a medium sized dark spot, or mare, on the Moon and can be observed with the naked eye under good sky conditions. In actuality, they are at least 5,500 astronomical units apart from each other, about 130 times the distance between the Sun and Pluto. Zubenelgenubi is two fists above the south-southwestern horizon at 6:00 a.m.
Monday: The bright star Spica finally makes an appearance in the evening sky. It is one fist above the east-southeastern horizon at 11:00 p.m.
Tuesday: Do you see a hunter when you look at Orion, due south at 7:30 p.m.? The bright reddish star Betelgeuse, five fists above due south, and Bellatrix, the bright bluish-white star one fist to the right of Betelgeuse, are the broad shoulders of the hunter. The bright bluish-white star Rigel and Saiph, the bright star to the left of Rigel, represent the knees. The Maya saw the equilateral triangle formed by Rigel, Saiph, and the left-most belt star as the “Three Stones of the Hearth”. The Orion Nebula is in the center of the hearth and it represents the flame, called K’ak.
Wednesday: Venus is right next to the Sun in the sky for the next two months, making it nearly impossible to see with the naked eye either day or night. But that wasn’t the case on March 4, 1865. On the day of Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration, many attendees reported seeing Venus in the daytime sky. Venus is always bright enough to be seen in a clear daytime sky. You just need to know where to look. And Honest Abe’s fans knew where to look. Read more about this at https://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2021/01/venus-surprises-in-day-time-sky-shortly.html.
Thursday: The asteroid Vesta will be in opposition tonight. That doesn’t mean that Vesta refuses to eat its vegetables. Opposition means that Vesta is on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun. When an object is in opposition, it is at its highest point in the sky during the darkest time of the day. Thus, opposition is typically the best time to observe an asteroid. Vesta is about five and a half fists above the southeast horizon at 11 p.m. You’ll need binoculars to see it. First find the moderately bright star Denebola, which is five fists above due southeast. Once Denebola is in your field of view, move your binoculars up and to the right until you get to the next brightest star in the region. Vesta is to the left of this star. Over the next few nights, Vesta can be seen moving up away from this star. Vesta is the brightest asteroid and the third largest. It was visited by NASA’s Dawn mission in 2011 and 2012.
Friday: CWU encourages physical distancing. But astronomy learning lives on! The Physics Department is hosting a First Saturday VIRTUAL planetarium show tomorrow from noon to 1:00 p.m. CWU physics graduate and Teach STEM student Jessica Kisner will give a show called “Astrobiology and the Search for Life”. The show will feature what we know about the possibility for life elsewhere in the universe? There is a virtual planetarium show on the first Saturday of nearly every month of the school year. Register at https://rebrand.ly/Mar2021FirstSaturday.
The positional information in this column about stars and planets is typically accurate for the entire week. For up to date information about the night sky, go to https://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/planner.cfm.