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Last modified: Wednesday, March 1, 2006

STAR TRAK

Saturn at its best and a solar eclipse

Saturn

Photo by: NASA

Saturn

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 1, 2006

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- On March 29, a total eclipse of the sun will sweep across parts of West and North Africa, Turkey and Central Asia. A partial eclipse will be seen across most of Africa, all of Europe, and much of western and southern Asia. None of the eclipse will be visible in North America.

The total eclipse will begin at sunrise in eastern Brazil at 8:36 Universal Time. The moon's shadow will then race eastward, leaving Brazil and taking only a half hour to cross the Atlantic Ocean. It will reach Africa at 9:08 UT, when it will encounter the coast of Ghana. From there it will move rapidly across North Africa into Turkey and Asia. The eclipse will last more than four minutes at its point of greatest duration in Libya.

More information about the eclipse, including a live Webcast that is planned, can be found at http://www.exploratorium.edu/eclipse/2006/index.html. Many details are provided by NASA at http://umbra.nascom.nasa.gov/eclipse/20060329/text/toc.html. Maps of the eclipse path can be seen at http://sunearth.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse/SEmono/TSE2006/TSE2006.html.

The next total solar eclipse will be Aug. 1, 2008, visible over the Arctic region, Siberia and the Gobi Desert.

Planets

Saturn will be high in the southeast at nightfall, perfectly placed for viewing with a telescope. The bright yellow planet will be easy to find in the dim constellation Cancer the Crab, and its rings will be tilted toward us very favorably for the last time this decade. If you have access to a telescope, take advantage of this fine opportunity to see one of the spectacles of our solar system. Check http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/home/index.cfm for the latest news and images from the Cassini spacecraft that is orbiting Saturn.

To the lower right (west) of Saturn will be the familiar bright stars of the constellation Orion the Hunter. The line of three bright stars in Orion's belt always points almost directly to Sirius to the left (east). Sirius is the brightest actual star in the sky of the Northern Hemisphere. In the other direction, the line of Orion's belt points upper right (west) toward the bright orange star Aldebaran. Keep going on the same line past Aldebaran and you'll reach the Pleiades star cluster, a beautiful sight in binoculars.

Mars will look much like Aldebaran in the constellation Taurus the Bull, where the planet can be found during March. Mars will pass north of Aldebaran, making the Bull look as though it has two red eyes instead of its usual one. Mars will continue to fade gradually as our distance from it increases.

Venus will be a brilliant "morning star" before dawn during March, the brightest point of light in the sky, but it will be very low in the southeast, easily blocked from view by trees or buildings.

Jupiter will rise before midnight local time early in March and about two hours earlier by month's end. The best views of Jupiter with a telescope will be when the planet is well up in the southeast before the start of morning twilight.

Mercury will disappear into the glare of sunset by March 6, pass between Earth and the sun on March 11, and reappear very low in the east shortly before sunrise during the last week of the month.

Equinox

The sun will cross the celestial equator (an extension of Earth's equator onto the sky) on March 20 at 1:26 p.m. EST (18:26 Universal Time) heading north. The March equinox marks the start of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and fall in the Southern Hemisphere. For the next six months in the Northern Hemisphere, the days will be longer than the nights.

Day and night are not precisely the same length at the time of the equinox. That happens on different dates for different latitudes. At higher latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere, the date of equal day and night occurs before the March equinox. In the Southern Hemisphere, this happens after the March equinox. Information about exactly when the equinox happens at different places on Earth's surface is provided by the U.S. Naval Observatory at http://aa.usno.navy.mil/faq/docs/equinoxes.html.

Moon phases

The moon will be at first quarter on March 6, full on March 14, at third quarter on March 22 and new on March 29.