Jupiter stars in the night sky

What's up in the night sky over Oak Bay this March

Jupiter dominates the evening sky this month, rising at sunset and setting at dawn.

On March 8, Jupiter reaches what astronomers call “opposition,” when Jupiter and the sun are on opposite ends of a straight line with Earth in the middle. This brings Jupiter its closest to Earth, so it shines brighter and appears larger in telescopes.

On March 14, 15, 21, 22 and 29, two of Jupiter’s moons will cross the planet’s disk, clearly visible from Cattle Point Star Park. When the planet is at opposition and the sun shines on Jupiter’s moons, we can see the moons’ shadows crossing the planet.

The next six months is a great time to image Jupiter when it’s highest in the sky – near midnight now and a little earlier each night through late summer. Even through the smallest telescopes or binoculars you should be able to see the two prominent belts on each side of Jupiter’s equator, the four Galilean moons: Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, and with some difficulty Jupiter’s Red Spot, when it faces Earth.

NASA’s Juno spacecraft will arrive at Jupiter July 4 this year and go into orbit around the giant planet. Right now the Juno mission  science team seeks amateur and professional images of the planet. These images are uploaded to a Juno website, and the public is invited to discuss points of interest in Jupiter’s atmosphere. The favourites will be targets for JunoCam, the spacecraft’s imaging camera. Once JunoCam has taken the images, they’ll be posted online. Imaging participants can then process these raw mission images and re-upload them for others to view.

I urge the great photographers of Oak Bay to participate and see if we can have one of our photographers recognized.

Now the moon. The moon rises about 50 minutes later each day. It rose just after midnight March 1. By the time it becomes a full moon it will be rising at sunset over Bellingham and setting at sunrise over Metchosin – to make our Salish Walk of the Planets (and Sun and Moon).  At New Moon, it will rise and set with the sun, so from Cattle Point, the full moon always rises over Mount Baker at sunset. This month it will be March 23, so that’s the evening to visit the Cattle Point Dark Sky Urban Star Park. I like to photograph the full moon through Chris Paul’s Salish Sea sculpture at Oak Bay Marina.

Kids and adults: Don’t forget to paint your own “Impression of the Salish Sea.” Find out more about the art contest, auction and show at cattlepoint.org.  The show is at 5 p.m. April 2 during the “Celebration for the Salish Sea” evening at the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre in Sidney, when the centre is rebranded as the Centre for the Salish Sea.

Learn about NASA’s missions nasa.gov, and  JunoCam at missionjuno/swri.edu/junocam. The RASCals of Cattle Point – see facebook.com/groups/VictoriaRASCals/ – meet at Fairfield Community Centre Mondays at 7:30 p.m.

Summary is from the transcript of “What’s Up In March 2016” by NASA announcer and astronomer Jane Houston Jones with specific permission for localization to Cattle Point DARK SKY Urban Star Park and the Oak Bay News.