BY AMY SAYLE
Image: If the Moon is up, it’ll be the easiest thing to spot in the sky. Credit: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio
Here are 7 celestial wonders to try finding in the current evening sky (late March 2016):
1. The Moon Of all the items on this list, Earth’s only natural satellite is by far the easiest to find -- but only if it’s up in the sky. As the Moon travels in its orbit around Earth, the Moon rises roughly 50 minutes later each day. Whether it’s above the horizon depends on its phase and the time. On March 23, 2016, the Moon is full, which means it rises around sunset, stays up all night, and sets around sunrise.
2. Jupiter Look for the brightest star-like object in the sky. This planet currently hangs out in the direction of the constellation Leo (#7 below). The only object you might confuse with Jupiter is the bright star Sirius (#4). Just remember that stars twinkle (“twinkle, twinkle, little star”), whereas planets generally shine steadily.
3. Orion Even though Orion the Hunter is considered a winter constellation, you can still see him in the spring if you look toward the southwest soon after dark. The easiest part to find is Orion’s belt – 3 bright stars right in a row.
4. Sirius This is the very brightest star in the night sky, currently appearing in the south to southwest after sunset. Just don’t confuse it for planet Jupiter, which is even brighter. You can locate Sirius by connecting the stars in Orion’s belt and then drawing an imaginary line down and to the left until you run into a very bright star.
5. Big Dipper Look high in the northeast for seven bright stars: three forming a handle, four forming a bowl.
6. Arcturus Follow the curve of the handle of the Big Dipper until you run into the bright orange-ish star Arcturus. That is, “arc to Arcturus.” Arcturus currently rises in the east within an hour after sunset. This star became famous in 1933 when it opened the World’s Fair in Chicago.
7. Leo the Lion Leo the Lion lies underneath the Big Dipper’s bowl. Look for stars forming a backward question mark in the sky. That’s the lion’s mane. A triangle of stars to the left of the mane makes up the lion’s tail or hindquarters.
Want to learn more about what’s up in this spring’s sky? For more tips (and labels! and outlines! and pictures!), join us at Morehead Planetarium and Science Center for “Starry Nights: Spring Skies.” This 90-minute program for adults and teens happens underneath the planetarium sky this Wednesday, March 23, 2016, at 7:30 p.m.
Want to see the real sky? Join us at one of 52 skywatching events across North Carolina at the 4th annual Statewide Star Party, happening April 8 and 9, 2016. Find a star party event near you!