The fourth rock from the Sun will be opposite Earth on April 8th, but there's plenty of time to observe the intriguing planet. In the video above, learn where to find Mars this week, how long it will stay large enough to observe reasonably well in a telescope, what you can do to improve planetary views and what filters may be used. For some maps of the planet, see this link - Mars map.
Spica in Virgo is an interesting star: Blue, bright, and harboring a few secrets that are a bit surprising for some amateur astroners, such as it's dual nature, intensity of their heat produced, and the speed of their orbit. But that's not all that's going on near this bright star this spring: Mars is nearby, offering the contrast of hues from the blue-white star and the rust-red planet.
And just a short hop, skip and a jump away are two asteroids: Vesta and Ceres. These are two of the largest asteroids in our solar system, and one of them is also a dwarf planet. Learn more about these objects, and where you can find them move night-by-night in this week's video. There's a handy star chart to follow their progress here.
Messier 44 was a bit of an "add-on" object for Charles Messier. Ancient astronomers knew of the hazy patch in the sky between Asellus Borealis and Asellus Australis - they could see it with the unaided eye. Dim, hazy, but there (sadly, light pollution keeps most of us from seeing it today!). So after finding 43 non-comet objects in his initial list, he rounded it out to 45 by including the Pleiades (M45) and this object, sometimes called "The Praesepe" or manger.
Today we often call it the Beehive cluster, as the 1,000 or so stars in this one and a half degrees across patch of sky appears like a swarm of bees. But at that angular diameter, this open cluster is too large to see fully in most telescopes, so binoculars are the better option. Plus, it resides in Cancer the Crab, a relatively dim constellation between Gemini and Leo. Check out this week's video to learn how to starhop to the Beehive / Praesepe / M44 using binoculars.
Use Star Chart 10 to find M44 - the stars in the video are the ones along the top edge of this chart.
As the Earth revolves around the Sun, the night-time side of Earth points towards a different section of the Universe. While Polaris and the circumpolar constellations revolve around the north celestial pole, the other stars and constellations change. During spring, very little of the Milky Way is visible - we are very much looking "up and out" of our galaxy. So although the foreground objects we see are planets and stars, the background ones are often VERY far away - such as the galaxies and a few globular clusters that populate this part of the sky.
Learn more about what to expect in the upcoming season in this week's video.