Aurora Update And Mars Visits The Seven Sisters

Mars, shining just above the tree top, joins the Pleiades or Seven Sisters star cluster for the next week and a half. I took this photo last night about 8:45 p.m. when the two were 5° apart. They’ll draw closer in the coming nights. At upper left is the bright orange giant star Aldebaran and below it, the Hyades star cluster, shaped like the letter V. Bob King

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.

Mars and the Seven Sisters will be closest on March 30, separated by just 3°. Stellarium

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.

The seven Pleiades sisters along with mom and dad (Atlas and Pleione) are shown in the photo at left. At right, the daughters are pictured in a 10th century Anglo-Saxon manuscript called a codex (Codex Vossianus 79). Their names are Alcyone, Maia, Electra, Celaeno, Taygeta, Asterope, and Merope. Use binoculars to see each more distinctly than you would with the naked eye.

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.

16 Responses

  1. Alex Natale

    That’s a really neat picture Bob, I like how you framed the top of the tree pointing directly at them.

    1. astrobob

      Thanks for noticing that, Alex. I had to wait for the right moment (about a 90 seconds long) because a big snowbank blocked me from moving any further to the right.

  2. kevan hubbard

    Have you ever seen the southern lights,the Aurora Australis?most pictures I’ve seen are from Tasmania strangley enough very few from New Zealand or southern South America; Argentina, Chile and the Falkland islands.you get them from Antarctica too obviously.might be more photographers live in Tasmania or the Earth’s magnetic field reacts with iron under Australia creating more aurora.you get some from mainland Australia too.south Africa hardly any as it’s a bit too far north.

    1. astrobob

      Kevan,
      I’ve never been far enough south to see the southern lights. My furthest is southern Peru. Love to see them from NZ someday.

  3. Barb Ellingson

    Neat to see the space station. Observed Pleiades with binoculars. Thanks for the info. On a clear night you can sure see a lot.

    Barb

    1. kevan hubbard

      I spotted Mars under the 7 sisters tonight.the evenings are drawing out now and stargazing will get more difficult unless you want to stay up really late.

      1. astrobob

        Hi Kevan,
        Still early till May. That’s when you have to start staying up late for a dark sky. I don’t find it too bad now. Dark by 9.

  4. kevan hubbard

    Dulleth is at around 46 degrees north so I’m guessing around the solstice you will have very little astronomical darkness? I m generally at about 51.5 degrees north I move around a lot!,and it never gets properly dark between May and July but I still manage to do a fair bit of southern stargazing if I stay out until about 2330.my mother lives in a seaside village at about 54.64 degrees north and they hardly get any real night in June but I have seen beautiful noccullient clouds underlit by the Sun from the beach. I have tried for nacreous clouds but failed and I read that usually you have to be about 70 degrees north or south for nacreous and about 45 degrees for nocullient.this is probably because the Sun is much lower in winter and nacreous clouds are much lower than nocullient clouds mind ”much lower’being relative nacreous are still about 5x higher than civil aircraft fly!

    1. astrobob

      Kevan,
      Cool that you’ve seen noctilucent clouds. I’ve also seen them from Duluth but only during mid-summer.

      1. kevan hubbard

        Yes late spring and early summer for noccullient clouds. I should guess early winter for nacreous clouds but can’t say for sure as I’ve never seen them.

          1. kevan hubbard

            Normally but I’ve seen pictures of nacreous clouds from Donegal, Ireland and Ayr, Scotland both around the 55 degrees mark.they are very rare that far south and many of the people where perplexed by them.still a bit of a mystery how they, and noccullient clouds,form very little water vapour at those altitudes.they think dust from meteors might be responsible bonding with water vapour? another interesting thing is noccullient and nacreous clouds seem to have only been observed since the industrial revolution with no reports before that suggesting human activity on the planets surface could be the cause? I m never sure if you’d put aurora watching, and nacreous/noccullient cloud watching in the astronomy pigeon hole or weather observing….sort of borderline.

          2. astrobob

            Kevan,
            It’s an individual thing, but I always include clouds and weather in my skywatching and have for years. Sounds like you have too.

          3. kevan hubbard

            Yes as clouds play a big part in astronomy too many and no astronomy!same with the night wildlife you encounter after dark. I have become quite a fan or fireflies and glow worms via astronomy and then there’s bats and owls.one thing I’d love to see is photoluminecent plankton.years ago a lady at work,now retired,told me of a view she saw in Cornwall,s.w.england.they went down to the beach down the cliffs and the milky way was arching overhead and the cliffs where speckled with glow worms and out at sea it was shimering green with photoluminescent plankton.

          4. astrobob

            Wow! What a sight that must have been. I’ve followed a similar track with an deepening interest in fireflies 🙂 No bioluminescent plankton though in Lake Superior.

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