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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Welcome to Spring, March 20, 6:15pm IST

Astronomy Israel welcomes you to the official beginning of Spring which occurs at 6:15pm Israel Standard Time on March 20, 2018. This is astronomically called the Vernal Equinox, Vernal meaning "spring" in Latin, Equinox, meaning "equal night" in Latin, as on this day daylight hours and night time hours become equal. From this day forward the days start to get longer and the nights shorter. The earth stands with its axis perpendicular to the plane of its orbit around the sun.

At the Vernal Equinox the earth's axs stands perpendicular to ts orbit around the sun. Day and night are equal. It is the official astronomical beginning of Spring. And welcome to it!

Don't Miss Venus, Mercury and the New Moon, March 20-25

This update comes a bit late, as I have lost track of the planets for a while, but the end of March has the best display of the planet Venus and the elusive planet Mercury, together with a beautiful crescent moon, in a long time. look west, toward the sunset point, starting around 6:00PM between March 20-25  to see bright, beautiful Venus in the western sky, just below a waxing crescent moon. Just to the right and a bit above Venus is much dimmer Mercury. It will be harder to see as the sky is still bright from the setting sun, and it  is nowhere near as bright as Venus, but it is visible as the sky gets darker with the naked eye. Binoculars will show Mercury easily in the same field of view as Venus. Be sure to catch this beautiful tableau at the end of March. By March 25 Venus and Mercury will be farther apart and Mercury will be more difficult to see, but Venus will remain a shining beacon in the western sky a sunset, worth looking for throughout Spring.

Because Mercury is never far from the sun it is always hard to spot so any occassion where it appears high in a relatively dark sky is an opportunity to see our elusive closest planet to the sun. And remember, Mercury is so elusive that Copernicus himself was rumored to never have observed it with his own  eyes. So, go out at sunset, look west, and enjoy the spectacle of our nearest planets, Mercury and Venus, in the sky close to our nearest celestial body, the earth's own moon!

Venus, elusive Mercury, and the new moon in the western sky at sunset. Don't miss the spectacle March 20-25, 2018!
Update on March 22, 2018:
Mercury has now moved to the lower right of Venus, no longer above it. Hold your hand out at arm's length and put up three fingers. Mercury now lies three fingers to the right of Venus and just below it in the sky. I was not able to see it with my naked eye from a light polluted park in Mitzpe Ramon, but it should be quite evident with almost any pair of binoculars. once you've identified its location in binoculars you can make it out as a pin prick of light, even in heavy light pollution. Good luck!


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