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Star light, star bright

Shiras Planetarium opens window to wintertime heavens

The planetarium’s MS-8 Minolta digital projection system at Marquette Senior High School is pictured. (Journal photo by Corey Kelly)

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MARQUETTE — The stars shone brightly on the inside of the Shiras Planetarium during its monthly Tour of the Night Sky program Monday afternoon at Marquette Senior High School. Attendees were able to explore constellations and planets visible in early March via the planetarium’s Minolta MS-8 star projector.

During the 30-minute presentation, Shiras Planetarium Director Becky LaBrecque covered the evening’s planetary and stellar activity from sunset to sunrise.

A star chart is pictured. (Journal photo by Corey Kelly)

“The sun isn’t quite rising at east, but it’s getting close,” LaBrecque said.

With the sun setting around 6:30 p.m., the planet Venus is immediately visible near the crescent moon station in the constellation of Taurus the bull.

“So, the moon is kind of the star of the show right now,” LaBrecque said. “Tonight it should be really pretty. You can see it’s sitting almost in the middle of what’s called the Winter’s Circle.”

Best seen at about midnight on a clear evening, the Winter Circle, sometimes known as the Winter Hexagon, is a six-star grouping appearing in the shape of its namesake.

The six stars that outline the hexagon, starting from the top and moving clockwise, are Capella, Aldebaran, Rigel, Sirius, Procyon and Pollux. Each star is a part of one of six constellations; Auriga, Taurus, Orion, Canis Major, Canis Minor and Gemini. Stargazers can easily find the bottom-right corner of the hexagon by locating Rigel, the right leg of the “night sky’s star,” Orion.

“Most people are familiar with Orion, the hunter,” LaBrecque said. “He is the brightest constellation in our hemisphere.”

Around 4 a.m., the brightest planets become visible in the night sky during what’s called the “planet parade.” Mars, Jupiter and Saturn line up, one after another, marching ahead of the sun. Mercury may be seen trailing behind the parade about 40 minutes before sunrise, LaBrecque said.

“This is kind of one of the first nights that you see them depending on your vantage point,” she said. “You have a pretty low rise in the eastern side early in the morning away from city lights.”

The next Tour of the Night Sky program takes place at 6 p.m. March 16. Admission is $2 for attendees ages 17 and under, $3 for the general public and free for guests over 60 years old.

Funds raised from public programs such as the Tour of the Night Sky go toward the cost of a new digital projection system. For more information or to view the program schedule, visit shirasplanetarium.org.

Corey Kelly can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 243. Her email address is ckelly@miningjournal.net.

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