Dr. Jeffrey Hunt
Credit: Dr. Jeffrey Hunt

Join us for Impromptu Sky Watches, or Neighborhood Mini-Star Parties, to be held in a neighborhood, park or at a school by one or more members of the Astronomical Society of the Desert!

The purpose is to observe a fairly unusual but eye-pleasing astronomical event we’d like to share with others. The event might be a very thin crescent moon in morning or evening twilight, or it could be a rare gathering of celestial bodies. A close pair of planets, or a planet and a star, or the moon and a planet or bright star, may trigger our desire to share the experience of viewing the event. Sometimes, a sky watch might be arranged to see a very favorable pass of the International Space Station across our local skies, or just to enjoy a moonrise over our scenic mountain horizon.

If you’d like to join us for one or more of these Impromptu Sky Watches, or if you want to observe the event on your own, visit astrorx.org for more information. Of course, the Sky Watch would be cancelled if clouds interfere. We’ll often wait until just a few days before the event to make an announcement, to obtain a more accurate forecast of whether the sky is likely to be clear.

The locations of Sky Watches will be:

1: In Palm Springs, on the sidewalk along the east side of Farrell Drive, within 300 feet north of the golf-cart crossing just north of Mesquite Avenue. We’ll be overlooking the golf course on both sides of Farrell Drive.

2: In Palm Springs, on the pedestrian bridge crossing over Tahquitz Creek, at Camino Real between north and south Riverside drives, three blocks north of Cahuilla Elementary School.

3: In Desert Hot Springs. The exact location has not yet determined, and will be announced at astrorx.org. Desert Hot Springs, and other places far east in the Coachella Valley where high mountains don’t obstruct the view of the western horizon, are better places for viewing phenomena low in the west, such as a young crescent moon or evening appearances of the planet Mercury.

Moonrise Watches: Join us, if the sky is clear, by arriving at location No. 2 in time for moonrise at the following dates and times:

Monday, Feb. 22 at 5:51 p.m. (just past full)

Tuesday, Feb. 23 at 6:46 p.m.

Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 7:40 p.m.

Old moon watch, on the last two mornings to see the thin old crescent moon in this lunar cycle: On Sunday, March 6, and Monday March 7, during 5:10-5:40 a.m., we’ll be at site No. 2 to watch for the rising of Venus and the crescent moon. On Saturday, Venus will be 10-11 degrees to the lower left of the moon. On Sunday, look for Venus 4 degrees to the right of the old moon, just over 1.5 days before new. This is the last easy chance to view the moon and Venus close together during Venus’ current morning appearance, which began late in August 2015.

Young moon watch, on the first evening to see the thin young moon of the new lunar cycle: On Wednesday, March 9, arrive to site No. 3 at 6:10 p.m. to catch the young crescent moon only 8 degrees up, just south of due west, while Jupiter, almost in the opposite direction in the sky from the sun, is 7 degrees up in east. The moon will be just more than 24 hours old.

Moon near two star clusters in Taurus: On Sunday, March 13, join us at site No. 2 at 7:45 p.m. to enjoy views of the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters, and the star Aldebaran, eye of Taurus, the Bull, near the fat crescent moon.

Moon near Jupiter: On Monday, March 21, sunset occurs at 6:59 p.m. On your own, using binoculars, can you spot Jupiter to the moon’s upper left before then? You’re welcome to join us at site No. 2 at 8 p.m. for views of this pairing of Moon and our solar system’s largest planet, and of stars of winter and early spring.

Moonrise watches: Join us, if the sky is clear, by arriving at site No. 2 in time for moonrise at the following dates and times:

Wednesday, March 23, at 7:26 p.m. (just past full)

Thursday, March 24, at 8:19 p.m.

Friday, March 25, at 9:12 p.m.

Young crescent moon and Mercury: Join us on Friday, Apr. 8 at site No. 3 by 7:45 p.m. As the sky darkens, we’ll enjoy a wonderful view of a young crescent moon an easy 39 hours old, with earthshine on its non-sunlit side, and Mercury shining within 9 degrees to its lower right. Jupiter will gleam well up in the east-southeast.

Moon and Aldebaran: For those who’d like to try to witness this daytime event on their own with a telescope, watch Aldebaran get covered by the dark side of the moon on Sunday afternoon, April 10, at 2:24 p.m., and reappear at the moon’s sunlit edge at 3:46 p.m. If you’d like to join us at site No. 2 at 8:15 p.m., we’ll check how far the moon has crept away from the star, and we’ll tour the April evening sky.

Robert C. Victor was a staff astronomer at Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs.

Robert Victor has enjoyed sharing the beauty of the night sky through live sky-watching sessions, planetarium programs and writings throughout his professional life—and now through his retirement years....