Night sky in March Highlights

By Mike Glazier

The Sun will cross the celestial equator on Monday March 20th and Spring will be considered as having begun. On this date the hours of daylight and darkness will be almost the same. At this time and again in September (the Equinoxes) the hours of day and night change most rapidly, with British Summer time beginning on Sunday March 26th. Don’t be confused with some postings showing that Summertime BST or Daylight saving time begins on March 12th because this is for the U.S.A; where their change is two weeks earlier.

Constellations of interest.

Due South at around 10 P.M. at the beginning of the month and lying between Gemini        ( West) and Leo (East) you may glimpse Cancer the Crab, the creature killed by Hercules as part of his labours. It is a small group with three ‘legs’ radiating from a central point where you will, on a clear dark night find the Beehive cluster or M44. It is a small hazy spot just visible to the naked eye under good conditions but binoculars or a small telescope will show it as a group of a few dozen individual stars.

Leo is the well-known ‘crouching Lion’ with the star Regulus being the brightest in the group. Regulus can at times be occulted by the Moon, and one will take place this year from Eastern Europe, or parts of it, but it won’t be until 8th of December. From here the Moon and Regulus will pass close to each other.

Earlier in this month the constellation Cepheus will be found to the North, with the well-known ‘W’ form of Cassiopeia to the West.

Below Cepheus you may just catch Deneb, very low down, however. and possibly Vega, the Alpha star in Lyra. Deneb is circumpolar, meaning it never sets, at least from the U.K. but again very low down to the North.

On March 5th but solely from the north Americas a waning crescent Moon will occult Aldebaran, the red star in Taurus.

Two days before this the Moon will be at Perigee (closest point to the earth) and on the 18th of the month it will be at Apogee or the furthest distance from Earth.

PLANETS.

Mercury will remain close to the Sun throughout the month passing superior conjunction on March 7th.

Venus will be too close to the Sun to be seen at any time during March, but we have I am sure you will agree, had a glorious show from this planet thus far. Well, that is from the perspective of anyone interested enough to look up skywards, but I have been surprised by the number of people I have spoken to who have not even noticed our celestial jewel.

Mars begins the month in Pisces at magnitude 1.3 but as it moves into Aries it will fade slightly to magnitude 1.5.

Jupiter  will move slowly into Virgo with a respectable magnitude of -2.3 to -2.5. At midnight on 14th/15th the planet will be joined by Spica and a full Moon.

Saturn.   The ringed planet will be a rather unsociable early morning ‘job’ in Sagittarius at magnitude 0.5 to -0.4 throughout the month. During the early hours of 19th-21st it will be joined by Antares (Scorpio) and a gibbous Moon.

Uranus and Neptune will both be too close to the Sun to be visible

During the last two days of the month a thin crescent Moon will pass Mercury and Mars, however this trio will be very low down to the West.

 

The Moon.

First quarter will be on 5th of March, Full Moon on 12th, Last quarter on 20th and New Moon on 28th.