The Night Sky in March

The Night Sky in March

I love March as the Milky Way is appearing higher in the sky and some of the best constellations are right overhead and the weather is a bit more pleasant. This is a great time for the family to head out and spread a blanket on the ground and just lie there and look up. As well as some amazing stars and constellations you can also see satellites and if you are out long enough meteors (or what you commonly call ‘shooting stars”). These are pieces of dust and/or debris from space that burn up in Earth’s atmosphere, where they can create bright streaks across the night sky. When Earth passes through the dusty trail of a comet or asteroid’s orbit, the many streaks of light in the sky are known as a meteor shower.

The Moon this Month

(All times are in Australian Eastern Daylight Time)

Last quarter Moon:     12:31 pm March 6th

New Moon:                 09:34 pm March 13th

First Quarter:              01:41 am March 22nd

Full Moon:                   05:49 am March 29th

On the 18h at 3.03pm AEDT the Moon will be at its furthest point or apogee when it will be 405,243km away from us. On March 30th at 4pm it will be at perigee – the closest it comes to Earth this month– being a mere 360,309km away from us.

On March, 11,12 2021, look for the slender crescent moon in your eastern sky. Then – if you are up for a big challenge – use the moon to try finding the three morning planets: Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn. Venus rises about 55 minutes before the Sun, so you don’t have to get up too early – say around 5:15-5:30

On the 11th Venus will be close to Jupiter and the very thin Crescent Moon low in the morning twilight. Nice photo opportunity if you are up to the challenge.

Planets in March

Mercury appears reasonably high in the morning sky this month and will be a little easier to find than usual as it gets up close and personal. with the bright planets Jupiter and Saturn. . On March 5th you will find Mercury is half a finger-width away from Jupiter. On the 11th the thin crescent Moon will appear to form a triangle with Mercury and Jupiter. Then on the15th Mercury will be visible just over about two hand-spans from the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise. Saturn, Jupiter and Mercury appear to form a line at this time. On the 30th Mercury will be only a hand-span above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise and but will still in a line with Jupiter and Saturn.

Venus is no longer visible as it lost in the sunlight and we will need to wait until May when it will return to the evening sky. It reaches superior conjunction on the 26th this is when Venus and Earth are on opposite sides of the Sun.

Earth reaches equinox at 8:37pm AEDT on Saturday the 20th  of March. This is when day and night are roughly equal in duration. It is the actual instant of time when the plane of Earth’s equator passes through the geometric centre of the Sun’s disk. This occurs twice each year, around 20 March and 23 September. This is the exact time at which the centre of the visible Sun is directly above the equator.

Mars is easily found in the north-western to western evening sky even though it is starting to dim as it is long past opposition. Mars can be found about three hand-spans above the north-western horizon an hour and a half after sunset and is close to beautiful Pleiades or seven sisters’ cluster. From the 16th to the 18th Mars will appear to form a second albeit far away eye for Taurus the Bull, paring with red Aldebaran. On the evening of the 19th the waxing Moon is near Mars. On the 30th Mars is still just three hand-spans above the north-western horizon an hour and a half after sunset.

Jupiter is rising in the morning eastern twilight sky and is becoming much easier and brighter to see.

On the 1st Jupiter was nearly two hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise and in a line with Mercury and Saturn. On the 5th Mercury was half a finger-width away from Jupiter. On the 11th the thin crescent Moon forms a lovely triangle with Mercury and Jupiter making a nice phot opportunity. By the 15th Jupiter is just over three hand-spans above the north-western horizon an hour before sunrise and by the end of month Jupiter is much higher and difficult to miss above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise. It still forms a line with Mercury and Saturn.

In either binoculars or a telescope Jupiter’s Moons are always interesting. Jupiter is now high enough to follow the changes in its Moons positions from night to night.

Saturn like Jupiter is now rising higher in the morning sky. You will find it as a yellow star like object above Jupiter.

At the beginning of March, it is about three hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise in a line with Mercury and Jupiter. On the 10th the crescent Moon is close to Saturn. By March 15, Saturn is just over five hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise. On the 30th Saturn is seven hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise and still in a line with Mercury and Jupiter.

Uranus is still in Aries and is visible very low in the early western evening sky this month. It remains in Aries until 2024 when it will move into Taurus. It will be harder to find as the month goes by and will disappear from view as it moves towards conjunction in early May.

Neptune is in conjunction with the Sun on the 11th of March until it appears in the early morning eastern sky in April.

Meteor Showers:

The gamma-Normids meteors are similar to the sporadics in appearance, and for most of their activity period are virtually undetectable above this background rate. The peak itself is normally quite sharp, lasting for only a day or two either side of the maximum which occurs around March14 which is great as it is around the New Moon. The best time for observing is just before dawn when the radiant reaches a reasonable elevation and there is no moon interference.

Normally a small number of “sporadic” meteors can be seen each hour of a moonless night. Sporadics are likely to be seen in any part of the sky. During a shower, the number of meteors visible may increase considerably. The meteors will appear to originate from a small area of the sky, called the radiant. The spreading out from the radiant is a perspective effect due to the meteors travelling in parallel lines but as they approach the observer they appear to fan out. The shower is named after the constellation which contains the radiant. In general, the meteor trails do not start from the radiant, but a few degrees from it.

Finding Norma in the early morning sky March 15th from thesky.org

Sky Views for March

Evening Sky on March 15th at 9pm facing north and West (from Stellarium)
Sky View facing East on March 30 with the 3 planets in a Line with Mercury close to Horizon (from Stellarium)
Sky View facing East and South on the evening of March 31 at 9pm (from Stellarium)

Clear skies until next month! Stay up to date on my facebook page.

Why not grab the 2021 Astronomy calendar which also includes the amazing photos and information on the planets, moon phases and skymaps for each month – usually $19.95 grab now for $17.50.

Want to get the best information for what is in the sky each month grab your copy of Astronomy 2021 Australia also on special this month from our website. Usually $29.95 now only $24.95,

Donna the Astronomer

I am a keen astronomer lucky enough to live and work in Coonabarabran the Astronomy Capital of Australia! I am a ‘Drover’s Brat’ and discoverer of a couple of comets and asteroids. I operate Milroy Observatory and can show you how to best integrate dark sky experiences into your tourism, farm stay or AirBnB business.

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