The Sky This Week, April 3 – 10, 2018 !

The Sky This Week, 2018 April 3 – 10

April is Astronomy Month…no fooling.
The Moon rising through trees
The Full Blue/Sap/Egg/Paschal Moon rising through trees, Alexandria, VA on 2018 March 31,
imaged with a Canon EOS Rebel T2i DSLR, 250mm @ f/8, HDR composite of exposures of 1/20, 1/80,1/320, and 1/640s, ISO 800.

The Moon swings low along the southern reaches of the ecliptic this week, wending her way past the morning parade of bright planets that are drifting through the summer constellations.  Last Quarter occurs on the 7th at 3:17 am Eastern Daylight Time.  Luna starts the week just to the east of bright Jupiter, then cozies up to Mars and Saturn on the morning of the 7th.  By the week’s end she moves into the dim star fields of the rising autumnal constellations.

April is Global Astronomy Month, an annual celebration of sky awareness sponsored by Astronomers Without Borders.  Celebrating “One People, One Sky”, the next few weeks will see a number of events to increase the general public’s appreciation of the universe as seen from our humble planetary home.  There are many ways to participate in the month’s activities from composing sky poetry to turning our lights to help promote a view of a darker sky.  The month incorporates International Dark Sky Week from the 15th through the 21st, and culminates in Astronomy Day, which takes place Saturday, April 21st.  On this day amateur astronomy clubs around the world will congregate at local parks with telescopes and hands-on activities to bring the stars to anyone with an interest in exploring them.  We’ll list events in the Washington, DC area as the date approaches.

Winter’s bright constellations linger in the early evening sky.  By the end of evening twilight at around 9:00 pm, you can still find Orion in the southwestern sky surrounded by the bright stars of the Great Winter Circle.  Act quickly if you want to view celestial gems like the Pleiades or the Great Orion Nebula; they both set well before midnight.  At this time look for the twin stars of Gemini, Castor and Pollux high in the west and the star Regulus in Leo to the east of the meridian.  In between these two constellations is a small group of 3rd and 4th magnitude stars that mark the location of the Zodiacal constellation of Cancer, the Crab.  The constellation itself is not much to look at, but if you point a pair of binoculars toward it you’ll see a scattered group of several dozen stars that make up the star cluster known as “The Beehive” or the “Praesepe”.  Under dark skies you can see it as a nebulous patch of light, and it was one of the first such “nebulae” to be investigated by Galileo with his primitive telescope in 1609.  He was able to resolve it into about 40 stars, and you should be able to see that many in binoculars.  Large telescopes reveal about 1000 cluster members, most of which are very low-mass red dwarf stars.  It lies about 580 light-years from us and is one of the closest large star clusters to the solar system.

As the midnight hour approaches the brighter stars of spring begin to take over the night.  Regulus and his companions in Leo are near the meridian, and the Big Dipper Asterism can be found almost directly overhead.  You can follow the arc of the Dipper’s “handle” to the bright star Arcturus, the fourth-brightest star in the sky, then “drive a spike” to Spica, the brightest star in the sprawling constellation of Virgo.

The evening twilight hour is dominated by the dazzle of the bright planet Venus, which shines high in the west.  She becomes visible within minutes of sunset in a clear sky and remains visible until after 9:00 pm.

Giant Jupiter rises at around 10:30 pm and should be easily visible in the southeast by midnight.  Old Jove is now second only to Venus in brightness and will move into better evening visibility over the course of the month.  He is currently drifting westward among the stars of another faint Zodiacal constellation, Libra, the Scales.

Early risers still get the best views of Mars and Saturn, which are currently located just above the top of the “Teapot” asterism in Sagittarius.  They start the week just over a degree apart, but over the course of the week Mars drifts eastward from the ringed planet.  They will be five degrees apart by the week’s end.  Look for a great pre-dawn photo opportunity on the morning of the 7th, when the last quarter Moon joins the planetary pair.


The Sky This Week, March 27 – April 3, 2018 !

The Sky This Week, 2018 March 27 – April 3

Moons and calendars
The Moon rising over a formation in the Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Colorado
The Moon rising over a sandstone formation, Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, CO on 2013 March 23,
imaged with a Canon EOS Rebel T2i DSLR, 250mm @ f/1, 1/320s, ISO 200.

The Moon brightens the overnight hours as she descends the ecliptic and courses through the sparse star fields of spring.  The second Full Moon of March occurs on the 31st at 8:37 am Eastern Daylight Time.  This being the second Full Moon of the month it is often referred to as a “Blue Moon”.  Generally Blue Moons occur at intervals of about 2 years 8 months, but 2018 is unusual in having Blue Moons in both January and March.  The next one will fall on Halloween, 2020.  The next time we have two Blue Moons in the same year won’t be until the year 2037.

In addition to the name “Blue Moon”, this particular Full Moon is also known as the “Paschal Moon”.  Since it is the first Full Moon to fall after the vernal equinox, it sets the date of Easter in the Christian faith.  In Judaism, which observes a lunar calendar, the observation of Passover begins on the 15th day of the month of Nisan, which also corresponds to the appearance of the first Full Moon following the equinox.  For the most part Easter and Passover occur at the same time, but there are exceptions in the way lunar months are counted in the Hebrew Calendar.  Since a “lunar month” is about 29.5 days, 12 such months yield a year of 354 days.  The eleven extra days in the solar calendar are made up by the periodic insertion of an extra month in the calendar.  Extra months are added at intervals of from 2 to three years, depending on where the year falls in the 19-year Metonic Cycle.  Over the course of this cycle there are 12 years of 12 months and 7 years of 13 months.

The bright Moon wipes out the view of many of the springtime stars.  You can still enjoy the departing winter stars that surround Orion, but you’ll need to do this early in the evening since the westernmost stars of the Great Winter Circle now set by midnight.  There are a few bright stars to enjoy in the spring sky, though.  Regulus, the heart of Leo, the Lion, is flanked by the Moon on the evenings of the 27th and 28th.  Luna perches about just over seven degrees above Spica, the brightest star of the sprawling but faint constellation of Virgo.  The brightest star in the northern sky, Arcturus, shines brightly in the east as the night passes, climbing to a place of prominence in the early morning hours.  By midnight, look just to the north of the zenith to see the seven second-magnitude stars that make up the “Big Dipper” asterism.

Venus and Mercury gave us a really good show over the past couple of weeks, but this week Venus has lost her planetary companion to the encroaching Sun.  In just two short weeks Mercury has gone from greatest eastern elongation, when he was easily visible to the naked eye, to conjunction with the Sun, when the fleet planet passes between Earth and Old Sol and is invisible.  Venus, however, continues to climb higher into the evening sky and becomes more obvious in the west with each passing evening.  By the end of the week she sets just after the end of evening twilight.  Her journey through the sky is a lonely one.  She’s moving through the constellations of the late autumn sky and won’t encounter any bright objects until she drifts between the Pleiades and the bright star Aldebaran in late April and early May.

You should be able to spot bright Jupiter low in the southeastern sky during the late evening hours.  He now rises just before 11:00 pm and should be high enough to train the telescope toward by 1:00 am.  You’d probably want to wait until the pre-dawn hours to view him, though, since he’ll be joined by ruddy Mars and ringed Saturn.  The latter two steal the show this week, as Mars passes the more distant Saturn on the morning of April 2nd.  At this time the two planets will be just over one degree apart.  If you have a pair of binoculars and are up well before the Sun look just below and to the right of Mars.  If you see a fuzzy glow of light you’ve found Messier 22, one of the brightest globular star clusters the galaxy.

The Sky This Week, March 20 – 27, 2018 !

The Sky This Week, 2018 March 20 – 27

The Moon returns while winter’s stars depart.
The Moon, Venus, & Mercury, imaged 2018 march 18 from Alexandria, Virginia.
The Moon, Venus, & Mercury, imaged 2018 March 18, 20:05 EDT from Alexandria, Virginia
with a Canon EOS Rebel T2i DSLR, 100mm @ f/6.3, 1/30s, ISO 3200.

The first week of spring finds the waxing crescent Moon climbing along the ecliptic to a perch among the retiring stars of the winter sky.  First Quarter occurs on the 24th at 11:35 am Eastern Daylight Time.  Luna opens the week in the western sky above the bright glow of Venus.  On the 22nd she passes just to the north of the bright star Aldebaran in the constellation of Taurus, the Bull.  By the end of the week she enters the springtime sky, closing in on Regulus, lead star of the constellation of Leo, the Lion.

The Moon’s path through the sky places her at a high altitude during the phases that reveal some of her most fascinating features.  This makes it a great time to explore her many and varied landscapes.  You can use something as simple as a pair of binoculars to see the changes along the Moon’s terminator from night to night.  It was such a view that I had as a youngster that inspired me to further explore the sky.  Small telescopes offer a wonderful view at relatively low magnifications.  On nights when the atmosphere is steady you can expect to see details to a scale of about a kilometer, roughly the size of Meteor Crater east of Flagstaff, Arizona.  This may hopefully give you a sense of the scale of the features on Luna’s face.  Most of the craters you’ll see are dozens of kilometers across!

The days surrounding the equinox are the times of the year when the Sun’s apparent motion along the ecliptic reaches its maximum change in the rate of change of declination.  This means that right now we add about three minutes of daylight to that of the previous day.  Most of us really notice this change more in the spring than the fall. Since we are coming out of the long dark nights of winter.  It’s a time when I notice, in particular, the demise of the bright winter constellations.  By the time evening twilight ends you’ll see that all of the stars in the Great Winter Circle are west of the meridian, and Orion, winter’s signature star pattern, is well on his way to setting by midnight.  Winter’s bright stars are now being replaced by fainter constellations that make up the springtime sky.  There is only one star in the spring that rivals the bright beacons of Orion and his cohorts, and that star is Arcturus.  You’ll find it in the northeastern sky where it starts to climb to prominence by 10:00 pm.  Arcturus is the fourth-brightest star in the sky and the brightest in the celestial northern hemisphere.  Although it is part of the larger constellation of Boötes, the Herdsman, you’ll be hard-pressed to see much of the star pattern from urban skies.  In darker locations look for something resembling an ice-cream cone to the north of Arcturus.

The easiest springtime constellations to see under brighter skies are Leo, the Lion, and the seven-star asterism we call the Big Dipper.  You’ll find them near the meridian at local midnight.  Leo has a single first-magnitude star, Regulus, which you’ll find close to the Moon on the evenings of the 27th and 28th.  The Big Dipper doesn’t have any first-magnitude luminaries, but its distinctive outline of second-magnitude stars makes it one of the most recognized asterisms in the sky.

Venus continues to gradually climb higher in the evening twilight sky.  As the week opens you’ll find the fainter planet Mercury a few degrees to the right of the dazzling Venus.  Mercury then takes an abrupt dive toward the horizon and rapidly fades to third magnitude, leaving him almost invisible in the evening twilight.

The bright planet Jupiter now rises in the southeast shortly before midnight.  He lords over the morning sky and is high in the southwest at the onset of morning twilight.  At this time you’ll notice the summer constellation Scorpius crossing the meridian, and to the east the ruddy glow of Mars shares the limelight with Saturn.  Watch Mars close the gap with Saturn.  He’ll pass the ringed planet next week.

The Sky This Week, March 13 – 20, 2018 !

The Sky This Week, 2018 March 13 – 20

Spring is (finally!) here.
Mercury & Venus, 2018 March 5, imaged at the USNO
Venus and Mercury imaged from Washington, DC on 2018 March 5, 23:50 UT 
with a Canon EOS Rebel T2i DSLR, 250mm @ f/6.3, 1/80s, ISO 3200.

The Moon plays hard-to-get this week, spending most of her time in the glow of morning and evening twilight.  New Moon occurs on the 17th at 9:12 am Eastern Daylight Time.  Luna returns to the evening sky on the 18th, when you’ll find her sliver of a crescent low in the west about 45 minutes after local sunset.  In addition to the Moon, bright Venus should also be visible just under four degrees to the right of the crescent.  You should also look for the planet Mercury, which will be a similar distance above and to the right of Venus.  You may need binoculars to sight Mercury at first, but as the sky darkens the fleet planet should become visible to the naked eye.  This should present a very nice twilight photo opportunity!

The vernal equinox occurs on the 20th at 12:15 pm EDT.  This is the moment when the center of the Sun’s disc reaches an ecliptic longitude of zero degrees.  At this time the Sun crosses the celestial equator at a point directly over northern Brazil.  The term “equinox” implies that the length of daytime and nighttime are equal on this date, but here in Washington we see 12 hours of day and night on the 17th.  This is due to the fact that the Sun subtends a disc about half a degree in diameter, so its limbs cross the horizon well before the disc center does.   From the 17th until September 25th the days will be longer than nights.

We are currently in the middle of the March campaign to count stars for the Globe at Night citizen-science campaign.  We’re currently using the stars in the constellation of Leo, the Lion, for our estimates of the darkness of the sky.  Leo’s brightest star, Regulus, may be found rising in the eastern sky as twilight ends, and by 10:00 pm the entire constellation is well up in the east.  The main stars of Leo’s outline range from first to fourth magnitude, so you have a good range of stars to look form.  Compare your observations with the star charts available on the Globe at Night website and help scientists map out the spread of artificial light pollution.

Venus and Mercury continue their dance in the western twilight sky.  Mercury will reach his greatest elongation east of the Sun on the 15th.  At this time he will be just 18 degrees from the Sun, but because of his orbital geometry he’ll be at his most favorable placement in the evening sky for the year.  He spends the week within a few degrees of Venus, but during the course of the week he fades from -0.3 magnitude to 1.2, a factor of four times fainter.  To find him locate Venus in the evening twilight about half an hour after sunset.  Use binoculars to search for Mercury above and do the right of Venus.  Once you’ve found him you should be able to spot him with the naked eye about 45 minutes after sunset.  By the end of the week he’ll be a difficult naked-eye target, but he should still be visible in binoculars.  As a bonus, the 36-hour old crescent Moon will be just to the left of Venus at dusk on the 18th.

I’ll be honest and admit that I’m not a big fan of Daylight Time.  It pushes the time I can set up my telescope for evening observing much closer to my bed time.  However, it does offer one positive in that sunrise is now around 7:00 am.  This means that we don’t have to get up too early to enjoy the planets that are hanging in the morning sky.  Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn are strung like beads along the ecliptic over the southern horizon as morning twilight approaches.  Jupiter is the brightest of the trio, just west of the meridian in the dim constellation of Libra, the Scales.  Mars follows in the southeast, his ruddy glimmer making a nice contrast with yellow-hued Saturn.  Mars starts the week about 10 degrees west of Saturn.  By the week’s end he’s moved four degrees closer to the ringed planet.

The Sky This Week, March 6 – 13, 2018 !

The Sky This Week, 2018 March 6 – 13

Venus & Mercury in the evening twilight, and Daylight Time starts…again!
Mercury & Venus over the 26-inch telescope dome
Venus and Mercury over the dome of the USNO 26-inch “Great Equatorial” refractor,
imaged from Washington, DC on 2018 March 5, 23:40 UT
HDR composite image made from 3 exposures with a Canon EOS Rebel T2i DSLR.

The Moon wanes in the morning sky this week, diving southward along the ecliptic as she greets the rising summer constellations.  Last Quarter occurs on the 9th at 6:20 am Eastern Standard Time.  She passes the three bright planets Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn in the pre-dawn skies.  You’ll find her perched just north of Jupiter on the morning of the 7th.  Look for Luna to the northeast of ruddy Mars before dawn on the 10th.  On the following morning she will be northeast of yellow-hued Saturn.

You have probably noticed the rapidly-lengthening days recently.  At this time of the year the Sun is making his most rapid northward progress along the ecliptic.  Each passing day now averages about three minutes longer than its predecessor.  We get a big boost in sunset times this week.  Thanks to the Energy Policy Act of 2005, we set our clocks forward by one hour at 2:00 am local time on the morning of the 11th, putting us on Daylight Time until November 4th.  Love it or hate it, this annual ritual has been around in one form or another since World War I, although the original concept of it dates to the second half of the 19th Century.  Its first application was in Germany in 1916 as a means of allowing factory workers to take advantage of natural light and save on coal-fired electric lights.  England and the allies soon followed, as did America in 1918, when Congress passed the Standard Time Act.  An interesting lobbying group helped to push the concept of Daylight Time in those days.  Food was scarce in major urban areas due to rationing, so people resorted to planting “Victory gardens”.  Daylight Time allowed workers to tend their plots after their factory shifts were finished.  A poster celebrating the passage of the act shows a happy Uncle Sam exhorting people to “Get Your Hoe Ready!”  Unfortunately, the change was not widely accepted, and the federal Daylight Time mandate was repealed in 1919.  It became a matter of local enforcement except for the years 1942 through 1945, and Daylight Time wasn’t specified in U.S. Code until 1966.  Unless you live in Arizona or Hawai’i, you’re obliged to observe it until the first Sunday in November.

The end of evening twilight finds the sky’s brightest star, Sirius, crossing the meridian.  Most of the rest of the bright winter constellations are now in the western part of the sky, leaving you only a few hours to enjoy Orion and his colorful companions.  The bright stars of the Great Winter Circle are giving way to the more subdued constellations of the spring.  By 10:00 pm Orion is sinking in the west, while the bright star Regulus leads the constellation Leo climbing in the east.  High in the northeast you should be able to pick out the seven second-magnitude stars of the “Big Dipper” asterism, part of the much larger constellation of Ursa Major, the Great Bear.  If you follow the arc of the three stars that make up the Dipper’s “handle” you’ll find the brightest star in the northern hemisphere of the sky, the topaz-hued Arcturus.

Venus and Mercury are putting on a fine show in the west as evening twilight begins to fade.  You should be able to pick Venus out of the bright sky about half an hour after sunset.  She starts the week about five degrees above the horizon at this time.  Once you find her, look above and to the right of the dazzling planet for Mercury.  The two objects will climb a bit higher on each successive evening, and should be easy to spot with the naked eye about 40 minutes after sundown.  This will be Mercury’s best evening showing for the year, so take advantage of his proximity to Venus to track him down.

The other three naked-eye planets are still best seen in the morning sky.  Get up an hour before sunrise to see Jupiter, the brightest planet in the sky after Venus.  Jupiter reaches his first stationary point in the 9th and will gradually begin retrograde motion westward against the stars over the next few weeks.  Mars follows Jupiter and van be found between the bright star Antares and the planet Saturn.  The red planet is closing the gap with Saturn, and will pass the ringed planet toward the end of the month.

The Sky This Week, February 27 – March 6, 2018 !

The Sky This Week, 2018 February 27 – March 6

A bright star returns, and Venus creeps into the evening sky.
Just past Full Moon, 2017 December 4, 02:52 UT
imaged from Alexandria, Virginia with a 10.2-cm (4-inch) f/6.5 Explore Scientific AR-102 refractor
and a Canon EOS Rebel T2i DSLR.

The first of two Full Moons for the month of March lights up the sky this week, escorting the springtime constellations into the sky.  Full Moon occurs on March 1st at 7:51 pm Eastern Standard Time.  This Full Moon is popularly known as the Snow Moon or Hunger Moon.  March will experience its second Full Moon on the 31st, making this one of those unusual years when January and March each have two Full Moons while February has none.  We’ll have to wait another 19 years for this to occur again.  Luna will wash out many of the fainter stars of the springtime sky, but you should be able to spot the bright star Regulus just east of the Moon’s nearly full disc when they rise on the evening of the 28th.  Luna will pass just to the north of Regulus at around 1:00 am EST on the 1st.  She pays a visit to the bright star Spica on the morning of the 5th, and pre-dawn skywatchers can find her in the company of Jupiter as twilight gathers on the morning of the 7th.

The bright winter constellations are now crossing the meridian at the end of evening twilight.  By midnight the stars of Taurus are slipping below the horizon, and Orion follows an hour later.  Enjoy these colorful stars while you can since we now gain almost three minutes of daylight each day as the Sun climbs northward toward the equinox.  All too soon these brilliant luminaries will be replaced by the more subdued stars and constellations that mark the coming of spring.  One star stands out in the springtime sky, though, and you can find it rising in the east shortly before 9:00 pm.  Arcturus is the brightest star in the northern hemisphere sky and the fourth brightest of all the stars.  It is characterized by a slight amber tint, although it may flash through multiple colors as its light passes through the dense layer of air above the horizon.  We can look at Arcturus and get something of a “preview” of the fate of the Sun.  Arcturus is about 3 billion years older than Old Sol and has exhausted the supply of hydrogen that fuses to helium in its core.  Hydrogen now fuses in a shell around an inert core of helium “ash” which has caused Arcturus’ girth to swell to some 25 times that of the Sun.  In turn, its larger surface area means that it is about 170 times as bright as the Sun but its surface temperature is cooler.  This gives Arcturus its characteristic color.  It is located just under 37 light-years away and has the fastest “proper motion” against more distant stars than any other first-magnitude star.  It was one of the first stars to have its proper motion measured.  In 1718 Edmond Halley found that it had moved about half a degree, the apparent diameter of the Moon’s disc, since the era of the ancient Greek astronomer Hipparchus, who compiled the first accurate catalog of star positions some 1800 years earlier.

Venus is gradually working her way up from the horizon into the evening sky.  She is still only visible in the glow of evening twilight, but by the end of the week she sets over an hour after sunset.  You’ll find her about five degrees above the west-southwest horizon.  Mercury joins Venus by the weekend.  Use binoculars to locate the fleet planet, which will lie just a degree to the right of much brighter Venus on the evening of the 4th.

I found myself awake at 5:30 this morning, so I set up the telescope to catch a glimpse of Jupiter before sunrise.  The giant planet is just past the meridian at this time, and I was treated to a nice view of the planet, his four Galilean moons, and the tiny shadow of the moon Europa slowly skimming over the cloud tops.  Just east of the meridian I found the ruddy star Antares and even redder Mars, easily spotted as the sky began to brighten.  Saturn brought up the rear, a yellow-hued glimmer above the “Teapot” of Sagittarius.  These three planets will all be well-placed in the evening sky during the summer months, but it’s till nice to see them in the pre-dawn sky with the chirping of springtime birds providing the sound track.

The Sky This Week, February 20 – 27, 2018 !

The Sky This Week, 2018 February 20 – 27

Check out the waxing Moon and play a game of “Birthday Stars”.
Crescent Moon, 2009 November 22
imaged from Alexandria, Virginia with a 50mm (2-inch) f/10 “Galileoscope”.
The craters Theophilus, Cyrillus, and Catherina are indicated.

The Moon climbs along the northern reaches of the ecliptic this week, arcing through the bright stars of the Great Winter Circle.  First Quarter occurs on the 23rd at 3:09 am Eastern Standard Time.  This is one of the best times to observe the Moon from the northern hemisphere since she’s at her highest altitude while going through her most eye-catching phases.  Watch the terminator line slowly advance from night to night, revealing a succession of interesting terrains and formations.  On the 20th look for three prominent craters near the terminator.  Theophilus is the most complete and is partly superposed on the similar-sized Cyrillus.  Both of these craters sit just to the north of another large crater, Catharina.  You can get a sense of the evolution of lunar features by looking at this area.  Theophilus is obviously “younger” than Cyrillus, and Catharina is older still.  Theophilus was formed by the impact of a modest-sized asteroid over one billion years ago, which is considered to be “recent” in Luna’s geological time-scale.  At 100 kilometers (61 miles) across and over 4000 meters (13,300 feet) deep, it is one of the most striking features on the Moon.  Its terraced walls and complex central peak are its main features, but also notice how its southeastern wall impinges on 3.5 billion year-old Cyrillus.  The astronauts of Apollo 16 sampled some of the ejecta from Theophilus, finding some of the oldest rocks blasted from the more ancient lunar crust.

Luna’s brightening orb scatters more and more light as the week advances, but you can still enjoy the bright stars of the Great Winter Circle.  Orion stands just below the Moon on the evening of the evening of the 24th.  This should be a fine night to use your small telescope to not only explore the Moon’s jagged features but to also look at the Winter Circle’s bright stars.  Start with Betelgeuse, the reddish-hued star that marks the hunter’s right shoulder, then move southwest to icy-blue Rigel.  Both stars are hundreds of light-years away, which means that they are thousands of times more luminous than the Sun.  Moving counter-clockwise from Rigel, you’ll pass orange-tinted Aldebaran, golden Capella, the close double-star pair of Castor, Pollux, whitish Procyon, and ending up with the blazing blue glow of Sirius.  Compared to Orion’s stars, the rest of the stars in the Winter Circle are all relatively nearby.  Castor is just over 50 light-years distant, while Sirius is a mere 8.5 light-years away.  You can use these stars to play an interesting game that I call “Birthday Stars”.  If you’re 8.5 years old the light from Sirius originated there when you were born.  Procyon’s light is about 11.5 years old, and so on.  I can guarantee that nobody on the planet today has one of Orion’s bright stars as their “Birthday Star” unless they are a giant redwood or a Joshua tree!

You should start looking for Venus in earnest in the twilight after sunset.  You should be able to pick her out just above the western horizon about half an hour after sunset.  She will climb higher in the west as springtime approaches.

Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn are now well-arrayed for pre-dawn skywatchers.  You’ll find Old Jove near the meridian an hour before sunrise.  By the end of next week he’ll rise at around midnight, but the best time to give him a look is still in the wee hours.  Ruddy Mars courses eastward between the stars of Scorpius and Sagittarius.  He is gradually brightening as Earth slowly starts to catch up to him on our faster inner solar orbit.  His disc is gradually getting larger as a result, and owners of large telescopes should start monitoring his surface details.  Saturn is low in the southeast, hanging out just above the top of the “Teapot” asterism in Sagittarius.  All of these planets will be best viewed in the spring and summer months.