Written by Kelly Herbst, Astronomy Curator for the Virginia Living Museum. Updated every two weeks, more or less.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Follow the KISS Principle

I so need to do that in my everyday life.

Well, it's yet again been a month since I could sit down and write a post.  Things have just been flat out crazy here!  Between wacky weather swings (including more snow days than I could shake a stick at), tons of special events (we've seen Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, tons of the general public, teachers, and lots of school kids), and the production of two shows just finished today (come see the public show - The Art of Hubble - beginning this Saturday in the planetarium!)...well...let's just say I've run myself ragged.  In fact, I'm so ragged, I've got a major back spasm going yesterday was spent at the doctor.  Hopefully, I'll be getting back to what passes for normal for me soon.

But, in the spirit of the KISS Principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid) I thought I'd just write a nice little post about what's going on up in the sky these days.

The big news right now is still Jupiter.  The king of the solar system is dominating the early evening skies, shining brightly in the constellation Gemini the Twins.  Look for a brilliant white star-like object high in the south in the early evening.  Trust me, you won't be able to miss it. 

Jupiter - King of the Solar System - and its four largest moons.  From left to right they are Io, Ganymede, Europa and Callisto.  Image courtesy Wikipedia.

In the southeast, you'll see the Moon, on its way to being full in a few days.  It will be the only thing in the sky brighter than Jupiter.  The two will be separated by a fair bit, but will still be close enough to be a beautiful sight together in the evening sky.  The Moon will move further and further to the left of Jupiter as the days go get outside and see them soon.

A lunar calendar, in case you wanted to know the phase of the Moon every day this month.  Available online for printing from

The stars of winter haven't given up yet...even though Spring is just around the corner (although you couldn't tell that from the temperature around here today!).   Orion still shines brightly in the south-southwest, just below and to the right of Jupiter.  You'll easily be able to see the three stars of Orion's famous belt, even in fairly bright skies.  Two stars above and two stars below the belt frame out this famous night sky hunter.

The constellation Orion as seen by a camera.  You won't see the intense colors of the stars, but you might notice slight tinges of color. Note the fuzzy pink bit below the belt - that's the famous Orion Nebula Complex.  Image from scienceblogs.

Looking ahead, Mars is going to be more and more prominent in the coming month or so.  It's approaching opposition, meaning it will be exactly opposite the Sun for us.  It's also approaching Earth - meaning that Mars will be at its brightest in the month of April.  Right now, the Red Planet rises late, and isn't well visible until after 1am.  Next month will see it rising at sunset, and hopefully clearing the cluttered horizons around here by about 10pm.  We'll be celebrating Mars next month at our monthly star party on April 12th - make plans to join us!

Now that the major show production push is out of the way, I'm hoping that things will settle down a bit and I can get back to more regular postings.  Tomorrow, by the way, is Pi day (3.14!) so enjoy some circle foods!  And today...well...there's a special shout-out I need to send to a friend.

This is your birthday message, on my blog
This is your birthday message, on my blog
Today is your birthday, so I'm writing you to say
Happy happy birthday to you, on my blog!

Happy birthday, John!  Hope it's a great one.

See you again...hopefully in two weeks!
Until then,
Carpe noctem!