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Springing Forward?

March 7, 2023 | By Geoff Chester, USNO Public Affairs

Central region of the Great Nebula in Orion and the Trapezium
Imaged 2023 March 1 with the 30.5-cm (12-inch) f/15 Clark/Saegmüller refractor
and a Canon EOS Rebel SL2 DSLR

The Moon wanes as she moves into the morning sky this week, diving southward along the ecliptic to end the week among the rising summer constellations.  Last Quarter occurs on the 14th at 10:08 pm Eastern Daylight Time.  Luna may be found to the northwest of the bright star Spica on the evening of the 9th.  By the week’s end, Luna will greet early risers from a perch near the ruddy star Antares in the constellation of Scorpius.

This is the week when we must set our clocks forward by one hour to begin keeping Daylight Time.   This annual ritual has its origins in the years preceding World War I and has been a bone of contention ever since.  Inspired by a satirical letter written by Benjamin Franklin in 1784, the idea of advancing clocks was independently promoted by two men, George Vernon Hudson in New Zealand and William Willett in England in the late 19th/early 20th Centuries.  Willett noticed that people were sleeping for several hours past sunrise during the summer months, so shifting the clocks would give them more time to enjoy the day.  He was also an avid golfer, and advancing time would allow him to get a round in after work.  Willett’s proposal found some support in the British Parliament, but it was not enacted until Germany adopted a one hour clock advancement in April, 1916.  This was done to help with the production of war materiel and to conserve coal resources.  Great Britain followed suit one month later, and the United States adopted it in 1918 with the passage of the Standard Time Act.  However, in America, it was immensely unpopular, so in 1919 the Daylight Time provision in the bill was repealed by Congress despite two vetoes by President Woodrow Wilson, who, like Willett, was an avid golfer!  State and local authorities could enact Daylight Time, and President Roosevelt enacted “War Time” by executive order in 1942, but a Federal statute was not enacted until 1966.  That law, the Uniform Time Act, was amended in 1986 and 2005.

As we approach the upcoming vernal equinox, we are experiencing the year’s most rapid rate of change in daylight hours.  Each day now sees the Sun above the horizon about three minutes longer here in Washington.  As we move northward that rate also increases, so folks in Fairbanks, Alaska get seven minutes of more daylight with each passing day.

The increasing daylight and the change to Daylight Time means that skywatchers have to wait longer for darkness, but this also gives something of a reprieve for Orion and his winter sky cohorts.  Rather than being well-placed at the dinner hour, you now have time to set up the telescope a bit later and still enjoy the sights of the sky’s brightest stars.  The down side is that, if you are like me, you’ll stay up later than you should and lose a few hours of sleep.  However, the sky surrounding Orion is still one of the most colorful and interesting areas of the sky to explore.  In addition to the bright stars that comprise the Great Winter Circle, there are a number of interesting “deep sky” objects that can be perused from suburban locations.  Orion’s Great Nebula is a good place to start.  It is the middle star in the Hunter’s “Sword” asterism, which can be found just under his famous “Belt” stars.  A small telescope will show a tight group of four stars embedded in a ghostly glow.  These stars, known as the “Trapezium”, provide the ultraviolet radiation that causes the surrounding gas to glow, and they are some of the youngest stars known in the universe, perhaps formed just 300,000 years ago.

Venus is rapidly parting ways with Jupiter, adding another degree of separation with each passing evening.  Daylight Time gives you a bit more time to view the two planets in the evening, but Old Jove will continue his precipitous fall toward the Sun.  When we switch to Daylight Time he will set at around 9:00 pm local time, but he’ll set three minutes earlier each subsequent night.  Venus, on the other hand, gains about a minute on the Sun with each passing evening.

Ruddy Mars may be found high in the south as evening twilight deepens.  He is now picking up speed in his eastward trek among the stars of Taurus, and this week he passes between the two stars that mark the Bull’s “horns”.  By the end of the week, Mars and the stars Aldebaran in Taurus and Betelgeuse in Orion form an attractive equilateral triangle of red luminaries in the center of the Winter Circle.

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