Our Spectacular California Sky
● By Christy Milan
A Galaxy Far, Far Away
By Christy Milan
NORTHERN CALIFORNIA PROVIDES BEAUTY and excellent places to explore throughout all seasons. However, sometimes one area is often missed – the big, beautiful California sky. March is a great time to look up! This month provides many events happening just outside your door. We can delight in two full moons, Mercury at elongation, the spring equinox and a planetary parade. All these celestial wonders can be found just by looking up.
The full moon in March is traditionally called the Full Worm Moon by Native Americans, who would use the moon phases to track the seasons. During this time, the earth is awakening from its winter nap. Earthworm casts reappear among the soft earth, inviting birds to return from migrating. The roots of once-dormant plants begin to push their way up through the soil in a display of re-birth. The full moon in March has also been named the sap moon in different regions in reference to the maple flowing and the tapping of maple trees.
The next big event begins early in
late February and into early March, when the planets slip into alignment. For those who rise early, they only need to look into the southeastern sky at dawn to discover Saturn, Mars and Jupiter positioned near one another. Over the next few nights, the waning moon appears with the planetary parade.
Arriving mid-month is the planet Mercury. The planet is at elongation during its orbit, which means it has reached the greatest distance from the sun. “Planets don’t orbit the sun in perfect circles but rather eclipses,” says Greg Williams of the Shasta Astronomy Club. “Think of an egg shape.” This allows the best viewing of Mercury since it has fewer glares from the sun and is at its highest point above the horizon. Look low in the western sky just after the sun sets.
The spring equinox arrives March 20. The name equinox comes from the Latin words aequus (equal) and nox (night). It was once thought that the equinox meant everyone on Earth could experience a day and night that is equal – 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night.
Now, we understand that most places on Earth see more daylight than night. This is due to how the sunset and sunrise are defined, and the atmospheric refraction of sunlight. On this day, many cultures around the world celebrate with festivals and grand events. The Mayans celebrate the vernal equinox with the Return of the Sun Serpent at the El Castillo pyramid. During the spring and autumn equinox, the late afternoon sun casts a shadow on the pyramid that creates the illusion of a snake moving down the pyramid.
The second full moon of the month is called a blue moon. The moon is not actually blue and it is not a term used by early Native Americans. The term blue moon is not even an astronomical term. It is believed it was first used in the 1940s in an astronomy magazine – it was a mistake that went viral and gave us this term used to describe two full moons in a month. This year is unique in that both January and March have two full moons and February has no full moon at all.
March in the North State is sure to bring about wonder and amazement if you know when and where to look. Now that winter has gone, we can embrace the renewal of a season and bask in its energy. The blooms of flowers celebrate spring by stretching toward the sun in an embrace of warmth and growth. We have all grown in one way or another through the season. Now is the time to venture outdoors, and don’t forget to look up! •
Sky viewing with Shasta Astronomy Club
March 10- 6 pm
March 17 – 7 pm
Oak Bottom at Whiskeytown Lake
Shasta Astronomy Club
Find them on Facebook
1644 Magnolia Ave., Redding
March 1: Full Moon, Full Worm Moon
March 7-8: Planetary Parade
March 15: Mercury Elongation
March 20: Spring Equinox
March 31: Blue Moon