Stars over Sisters


Last updated 3/19/2024 at 3:17pm

Photo courtesy ESA/ Hubble & NASA, A. Filippenko

At least four supernovae have been recently detected in NGC 2770, a far off galaxy in the constellation of Lynx.

Though currently on the wane, winter will hang around for another three weeks after March bursts on the scene before yielding to a brand-new season before month's end. To highlight this event, we chose to feature the late winter-early spring constellation of Lynx.

Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius introduced this new constellation in the late seventeenth century to fill a large gap in the night sky that lies between Auriga and Ursa Major. He named it Lynx because even its brighter stars are faint and supposedly takes the eyesight of a lynx to see them. Finding Lynx won't be easy, but if you're up for the challenge, pick a moonless night away from nearby lights. The visually perceptive cat will lie nearly overhead by about 9 p.m. during March.

Begin by locating Castor in the constellation of Gemini. From here the brightest star in Lynx (Alpha Lyncis) should be about 25 degrees to the east. Now look for a zigzag arrangement of dim stars extending to the northwest. You're there (probably).

While there seems to be no sky lore directly associated with Lynx, there is a figure in mythology that might be linked to the constellation's name. Lynceus, who sailed with Jason and the Argonauts, was said to have the keenest eyesight of any man and could even see things that were underground. He and his twin brother Idas were part of the expedition for the Golden Fleece.

Four deep sky objects that reside within the boundaries of Lynx are worthy of mention. Lying at a distance of 280,000 light-years, NGC 2419 is one of the most distant globular star clusters in our galaxy. Often referred to as the Bear's Paw Galaxy because of its distinctive shape, NGC 2537 is a compact dwarf galaxy located about 30 million light-years from us.

IC 2233 is a flat and exceedingly thin spiral galaxy that displays a low rate of star formation. It may lie at a distance of 40 million light-years. But it's spiral galaxy NGC 2770 that is really "far out", to the tune of approximately 88 million light-years. This galaxy is remarkable for the number of supernovae that have been found there; four as of 2017.

The planetary configuration this month places Mercury and Jupiter in the evening sky, while Venus, Mars, and Saturn occupy the morning realm. Mercury will make its best evening appearance of the year from about mid-month through March 24.

With regard to the morning trio of planets, Venus is simply too bright to be missed. Saturn and Mars will show up better later in the month when they've further distanced themselves from the sun.

For those who live in the Northern Hemisphere, spring begins at 8:06 p.m. PDT on March 19, 2024. On this date and time, the sun will cross the equator on its journey northward, resulting in equal hours of night and day everywhere.

Because the new moon falls on March 10 and the Full Worm Moon doesn't arrive until March 25, get your evening dark sky observing done by early-to-mid month.

On March 24/25, a penumbral lunar eclipse will occur that will be visible from Central Oregon. This type of eclipse happens when the moon passes through the fainter part of the Earth's shadow (the penumbra). This means the moon will appear only slightly dimmer than it normally does, so it can be difficult to detect. The eclipse begins at 9:53 p.m. on March 24 and ends at 2:32 a.m. March 25.

Dark sky tip: Shield your outdoor lights. One of the best ways to keep the night sky dark in Sisters is to make sure your lights don't point towards the sky! Keep your light sources shielded, lighting up only what you need, without allowing unnecessary light to shine upward.


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