March: Quick-change month

Woodstock’s Mescal Hornbeck Community Center on Rock City Road (photo by Dion Ogust)

Woodstock’s Mescal Hornbeck Community Center on Rock City Road (photo by Dion Ogust)

March – the only month that is also a verb – implies action. This year it overachieves, with snappy animation during the next few weeks. Consider: March brings the year’s fastest sunlight gain, especially in the afternoon when we most notice it (April provides the quickest gain in morning sunshine). Each day now has three minutes of additional light compared with the day before. Each sunset happens about two minutes later, shoving back evening darkness.

Mars and Jupiter are both striking during March. Jupiter rules as the night’s brightest “star,” and dominates from on high as soon as night falls. Though a bit less brilliant, Mars is brightening explosively, and now finally rises at a reasonable hour: 10 p.m. By 11 p.m. it’s nicely up in the east, as a conspicuous orange star of magnitude -1, hovering next to blue Spica, Virgo’s main luminary. Mars is rapidly approaching our planet, ahead of reaching its near-point to Earth just three weeks from now.

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A major don’t-miss happens on Tuesday night, the 18th. As soon as the rising Moon clears those hills near your house (figure by 10:30 p.m. or so), you’ll see it forming a lovely triangle with orange Mars and blue Spica.

Seasons change: Winter ends a week from Thursday, on the 20th, at three minutes to one in the afternoon. That’s when the Sun momentarily hovers directly over the Equator in South America.

Here on Earth, one can almost feel the green blanket of buds sweep northward like a tide, now passing through Virginia and approaching Washington, DC as it marches up the map at the same speed that a baby carriage is typically pushed.

Our local forests don’t get their canopy until the first week of May, and we’ve still got to get through our often-snowy month of March. But now it’s a piece of cake. The noonday Sun stands four of its own widths higher each week. Its ever-more-direct intensity is palpable on exposed skin. Winter is broken on Earth and in the sky. It’s easy to shrug off the final icy mornings, because the signs of nature have given their promise: It is the time of change.

Speaking of which, a nice team including the old Star Trek favorite writer Brannon Braga have finally created a new version of the old beloved Carl Sagan TV series Contact. I can’t ignore it, since I’m repeatedly asked what I think of it. My answer: I’m not watching it. Don’t get me wrong; Neil Tyson is a wonderful choice to popularize TV astronomy today, for several reasons, even if I would have preferred the host to be a woman. He’s a worthy successor to Sagan, and a nice guy, too.

It’s just that such science shows are aimed at mass audiences, so there’s no new knowledge for me – only frustration as I lament the omission of deep non-mainstream views, like the cosmos being correlative with the observer or consciousness. I’d wince at items offered as “givens” (like a “birth” of the universe at a Big Bang) that are actually mysterious and unknown, or large swaths of airtime devoted to mass-appeal astro-topics that strike me as myopic or superficial: that kind of thing. Can’t watch. But don’t let that dissuade you; a remake was overdue.

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