Night Sky Star Gazing – March 2017

03/22/2017 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ Astronomy and Space News

Whats in the night sky?


On March 4 2017 the first quarter moon passes between Earth and the star Aldebaran, temporarily blocking our view of the star. This is called an occultation. The occultation begins and concludes at different times, depending on where you are when you view it.

The event should be easy to see from most of the U.S., Mexico, most of Central America, the Western Caribbean and Bermuda. Observers along a narrow path from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Hartford, Connecticut, will see the moon “graze” the star. The star will disappear and reappear repeatedly as hills and valleys on the moon alternately obscure and reveal it.

Saturn is visible from the UK in March 2017. You need to be up early to spot it. Best time to find Saturn is between 4am to daybreak in the March morning sky. Look for a bright star-like object low down towards your south-east.

(Details given are for London and will vary for other parts of the UK.)

1 March  look for Venus, Mars and the Moon making a triangle in the south-west sky just after sunset. Venus has been the bright ‘evening star’ for the last few months but as it approaches inferior conjunction on 25 March (where it will pass between the Earth and Sun) Venus will become more and more difficult to see, marking the end of its phase of evening appearances.

5 March try and spot the first quarter Moon beside Aldebaran (the brightest star in the constellation of Taurus) and close by will also be the red supergiant star Betelgeuse. If Aldebaran was the star in our solar system, its surface would extend out to the orbit of Mercury but Betelgeuse is even bigger. If placed in our Solar system, the surface of Betelgeuse would extend to the orbits of Mars or Jupiter!

10 March by now the waxing gibbous Moon will be within 1° of the blue-white star Regulus. Regulus has the honour of being the closest star to the ecliptic (the apparent path of the Sun during the year) and the ecliptic also marks the line along which the Moon and planets wander. This is why the Moon passes very close to Regulus every month and may sometimes even occult (pass directly in front of) it.

14 March catch a three body spectacle around midnight with the Moon close to the planet Jupiter and the bright star Spica. You’ll be able to see Jupiter with just your eyes but grab a pair of binoculars or a telescope and have a look for its four largest moons – Io will be on one side and Europa, Ganymede and Calisto on the other.

20 March the Sun will cross the celestial equator today, marking the Vernal Equinox. This is the start of spring, when the North Pole of the Earth begins to lean towards the Sun again and the hours of daylight and darkness on this day are approximately the same length.

Have a look for the last quarter Moon beside Saturn in the southern sky in the early morning of the 20th before sunrise.


Tips for Observing the Night Sky

When observing the March night sky , and in particular deep-sky objects such as star clusters,nebulae, and galaxies, it’s always best to observe from a dark location. Avoid direct light from street lights and other sources. If possible observe from a dark location away from the light pollution that surrounds many of today’s large cities.

You will see more stars after your eyes adapt to the darkness, usually about 10 to 20 minutes after you go outside. Also, if you need to use a torch to view the sky map, cover the light bulb with red cellophane. This will preserve your dark vision.

Finally, even though the Moon is one of the most stunning objects to view through a telescope, its light is so bright that it brightens the sky and makes many of the fainter objects very difficult to see. So try to observe the evening sky on moonless nights around either New Moon or Last Quarter.


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