Sometimes things don’t work out. Like many of you I stayed up late hoping to see the northern lights but no dice. The anticipated storm never did arrive. Yet the act of getting out and looking out is never wasted. I caught a brilliant pass of the space station and tracked three other satellites during twilight. The stars were bright and lovely, and the air pleasant for a change. Skygazing in spring is so much more relaxing than in winter.
The latest space weather forecast noted that a minor storm watch is still in effect for this evening in case the “later than anticipated” CME from the sun arrives. Early evening looks best. I’ll be out and hope you’ll be too. As an enticement, Mars and the Seven Sisters star cluster make a beautiful pair in the west for the next week or so. If you haven’t seen them yet, take a few minutes the next clear night. Mars stands not quite halfway up in the west-northwest in late twilight directly below the cluster, which looks like a tiny dipper of stars bunched so close together it seems swaddled in mist.
Last night, the Mars stood directly below the Sisters, but being a planet it won’t stay put. As it orbits the sun, Mars moves slowly eastward across the sky. Tonight they’ll be separated by 4.5° (a little less than your three middle fingers held together at arm’s length against the sky) and closest on Saturday, March 30 at 3°.
I can’t think of an easier, more pleasurable skywatching event than watching these two sky objects slow-jam over the next week. Keep their distances in mind. Mars currently shines from 183 million miles (295 million km) away, while the Pleiades are 444 light years or 2,664,000,000,000,000 quadrillion miles from Earth. They appear close, but picture how much nearly empty space separates them. That’s what I call wild country.