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Springing Forward (And Why We Do It)

by Geoff Chester, USNO Public Affairs | 08 March 2022

by Geoff Chester, USNO Public Affairs | 08 March 2022

Orion Through The Trees, imaged 2019 February 16 from Mollusk, Virginia
with a Canon EOS Rebel SL2 DSLR.

The Moon brightens the evening hours this week, waxing from her First Quarter phase to a fat gibbous by the week's end.  Luna begins the week situated between the bright star Aldebaran and the Pleiades star cluster in the constellation of Taurus, the Bull.  She then wends her way into the northern reaches of the Great Winter Circle, passing near the Twin Stars of Gemini, Castor and Pollux.  By the end of the week she enters the realm of the springtime constellations.  On the 15th the Moon will be a few degrees north of the bright star Regulus in Leo.  If you have binoculars or a small telescope you can watch Luna occult the third-magnitude star Eta Leonis I the early evening of the 15th.  The star will disappear behind the Moon's dark limb at 7:46 pm Eastern Daylight Time, then re-appear on the bright limb at 10:32 pm EDT.

Yes, you read that correctly.  This is the week when most of us in the U.S. set our clocks ahead by one hour and begin to observe Daylight Time.  Residents of Arizona and Hawai'i are the only folks who don't participate in this annual ritual.  Technically the change occurs at 2:00 am local time on the 13th. 

Like it or not, the observance of Daylight Time is specified in the laws of the land.  U.S. Code Title 15, Chapter 6, Subchapter IX spells it out in detail.  The history of Daylight Time in the U.S. goes back to 1918, when it was first enacted by Congress as an energy-saving strategy in World War I.  It was so unpopular that the law was repealed in 1919, when the decision to implement it was left up to state and local jurisdiction.  It was next implemented nationwide by an executive order from President Franklin Roosevelt on February 9, 1942, and remained in effect through the course of World War II, ending on September 30, 1945.  Once again, Daylight Time became a local matter until 1966, when Congress passed the Uniform Time Act, specifying the use of Daylight Time for the nation.  At this juncture states were given the option to remain on Standard Time year-round.  Arizona voted to do so, while in Hawai'i there was no need to do so due to its tropical latitude.  Recently many states have passed legislation to observe either Daylight Time or Standard Time year-round, but Congress will need to approve these measures before they become law.

The waxing Moon gradually brightens the sky as the week passes.  Fortunately, the early evening sky is still dominated by the bright stars of winter, which gives us something else to enjoy once we've perused Luna's battered face.  A small telescope is well-suited for lunar exploration, and it's also a great way to look at the brighter stars.  The stars Betelgeuse in Orion and Aldebaran in Taurus glow with a ruddy amber tint, while Capella, northernmost star in the Great Winter Circle, shows a pleasing yellow hue.  Rigel and Orion's three "Belt Stars" have icy blue colors.  Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, offers a particularly interesting view.  Its dazzle, concentrated in a pinpoint, seems to flicker through all the colors of the rainbow as atmospheric turbulence bends its incoming light.

The one advantage that I find in the switch to Daylight Time is that I don't have to get up early in the morning to catch the antics of the rising morning planets.  Bright Venus should be an easy target in the southwestern sky an hour before sunrise.  Look just a few degrees below the dazzling planet to spot the dimmer ruddy glow of Mars.  These two planets will gradually draw closer together as they glide in tandem eastward through the stars of Capricornus.  As twilight begins to brighten the sky the yellow glow of Saturn should become apparent.  All three planets will converge during the last week of March.


Commander, Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command | 1100 Balch Blvd. | Stennis Space Center, Mississippi 39529

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