Much of my March will revolve around Mars. For example, this Saturday, March 3rd, according to Sky & Telescope‘s ‘This Week’s Sky at a Glance‘ (both for this past week and the one ahead), Mars shines highest in the south, in the sharpest telescopic view, around midnight.
Mars is at opposition, appearing opposite the Sun in Earth’s sky. This is the most distant opposition of Mars in its 15-year cycle of oppositions near and far, so the planet appears only 13.9 arcseconds wide. At its next time around in April 2014, Mars will reach a diameter of 15.2″.
My goal is to stay up late enough on Saturday night to allow the moon to set (or almost set) and Mars to be either directly overhead or just over the top and falling towards the western horizon. That will optimize my viewing, reducing the amount of atmosphere I must look through and minimizing the effect of the light pollution in my area.
For this first weekend of March, I think I will limit myself to my own backyard. I did receive the new power cord I ordered for the ETX-90 yesterday, so I will test that out tonight with the portable battery pack my father reconditioned and gifted to me. The following weekend will present more difficulties observing Mars since the Full Moon will be two days old on Saturday the 10th.
Just a day or two after the vernal equinox I hope to join other members of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City (ASKC) in the annual Messier Marathon – an attempt to find as many Messier Objects as possible during one night. Since the new moon occurs just two days after the equinox, my only concern would be clouds to obscure an otherwise perfect dark night sky. I don’t plan on needing a tent, since I wouldn’t be sleeping until the sun broke over the eastern horizon anyway. I will really regret giving up drinking tea and coffee (or any kind of beverage except water) for Lent during that long night. I just hope the excitement of discovery will keep me awake.