Night sky guide for March 2018

Night sky guide for March 2018

While February had no full moon, March will host two of them - one on March 2 and the second, blue moon, on March 31.

The best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere - New Moon - is on March 17.

The March equinox on March 20 marks the first day of spring for anybody living in the northern hemisphere and the first day of autumn for anybody living in the southern hemisphere. On the day of the equinox, everywhere on Earth has almost exactly 12 hours of day and night, as the Sun's annual journey through the constellations of the zodiac carries it across the celestial equator.

  • March 2 - Full Moon - 00:53 UTC. At this time in its monthly cycle of phases, the Moon lies almost directly opposite the Sun in the sky, placing it high above the horizon for much of the night. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Worm Moon because this was the time of year when the ground would begin to soften and the earthworms would reappear. This moon has also been known as the Full Crow Moon, the Full Crust Moon, the Full Sap Moon, and the Lenten Moon.

  • March 3 - IC2602 well placed for observation. Across much of the world, the theta Carinae open star cluster (IC 2602, also known as the southern Pleiades) will be well placed for observation. It will reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time. At a declination of -64°24', it is easiest to see from the southern hemisphere but cannot be seen from latitudes much north of 5°N. At magnitude 1.9, IC2602 is visible to the naked eye, but best viewed through a pair of binoculars.

  • March 4 - Neptune at solar conjunction - 13:56 UTC. Neptune will pass very close to the Sun in the sky as its orbit carries it around the far side of the solar system from the Earth. At closest approach, it will appear at a separation of only 0°54' from the Sun, making it totally unobservable for several weeks while it is lost in the Sun's glare. At around the same time, Neptune will also be at its most distant from the Earth – receding to a distance of 30.94 AU – since the two planets will lie on opposite sides of the solar system.

  • March 5 - Conjunction of Venus and Mercury - 18:30 UTC. Venus and Mercury will share the same right ascension, with Venus passing 1°24' to the south of Mercury. Venus will be at mag -3.9, and Mercury at mag -1.1, both in the constellation Pisces. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.

  • March 7 - Conjunction of the Moon and Jupiter - 07:56 UTC. The Moon and Jupiter will share the same right ascension, with the Moon passing 4°06' to the north of Jupiter. The Moon will be 20 days old. At around the same time, the two objects will also make a close approach, technically called an appulse. The Moon will be at mag -12.2, and Jupiter at mag -2.2, both in the constellation Libra. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.

  • March 7 - Close approach of the Moon and Jupiter - 09:02 UTC. The Moon and Jupiter will make a close approach, passing within 3°57' of each other. The Moon will be at mag -12.2, and Jupiter at mag -2.2, both in the constellation Libra. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars. At around the same time, the two objects will also share the same right ascension – called a conjunction.

  • March 8 - NGC 3532 is well placed. Across much of the world, the wishing well open star cluster (NGC 3532) in Carina will be well placed for observation. It will reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time. At a declination of -58°40', it is easiest to see from the southern hemisphere but cannot be seen from latitudes much north of 11°N. At magnitude 3.0, NGC3532 is tricky to make out with the naked eye except from a dark site but is visible through a pair of binoculars or a small telescope.

  • March 9 - Moon at last quarter - 11:21 UTC. The Moon will be prominent in the dawn sky, rising at around midnight.

  • March 10 - Conjunction of the Moon and Mars - 00:38 UTC. The Moon and Mars will share the same right ascension, with the Moon passing 3°48' to the north of Mars. The Moon will be 23 days old. At around the same time, the two objects will also make a close approach, technically called an appulse. The Moon will be at mag -11.7, and Mars at mag 0.7, both in the constellation Ophiuchus. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.

  • March 10 - Close approach of the Moon and Mars - 01:25 UTC. The Moon and Mars will make a close approach, passing within 3°47' of each other. The Moon will be 23 days old. The Moon will be at mag -11.7, and Mars at mag 0.7, both in the constellation Ophiuchus. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.

  • March 11 - 74P/Smirnova-Chernykh reaches its brightest. Comet 74P/Smirnova-Chernykh is forecast to reach its brightest, at around mag 12.4. It will lie at a distance of 3.54 AU from the Sun, and at a distance of 2.56 AU from the Earth.

  • March 11 - Conjunction of the Moon and Saturn - 02:22 UTC. The Moon and Saturn will share the same right ascension, with the Moon passing 2°13' to the north of Saturn. The Moon will be 24 days old. At around the same time, the two objects will also make a close approach, technically called an appulse. The Moon will be at mag -11.4, and Saturn at mag 0.3, both in the constellation Sagittarius. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.

  • March 11 - Close approach of the Moon and Saturn - 02:26 UTC. The Moon and Saturn will make a close approach, passing within 2°13' of each other. The Moon, 24 days old will be at mag -11.4, and Saturn at mag 0.3, both in the constellation Sagittarius. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars. At around the same time, the two objects will also share the same right ascension – called a conjunction.

  • March 14 - Mercury at dichotomy - 08:59 UTC. Mercury will be well placed for observation in the evening sky, shining brightly at mag -0.5. Mercury's orbit lies closer to the Sun than the Earth's, meaning that it always appears close to the Sun and is very difficult to observe most of the time. It is observable only for a few days each time it reaches greatest separation from the Sun – moments referred to as greatest elongation.

  • March 15 - Mercury at greatest elongation east - 10:18 UTC. Mercury will be well placed for observation in the evening sky, shining brightly at mag -0.4. Mercury's orbit lies closer to the Sun than the Earth's, meaning that it always appears close to the Sun and is very difficult to observe most of the time. It is observable only for a few days each time it reaches greatest separation from the Sun – moments referred to as greatest elongation. These apparitions take place alternately in the morning and evening skies, depending whether Mercury lies to the east of the Sun or to the west. When it lies to the east, it rises and sets a short time after the Sun and is visible in early evening twilight. When it lies to the west of the Sun, it rises and sets a short time before the Sun and is visible shortly before sunrise. On this occasion, it lies 18° to the Sun's east.

  • March 17 - New Moon - 13:13 UTC. The Moon will be located on the same side of the Earth as the Sun and will not be visible in the night sky. This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.

  • March 18 - Conjunction of Venus and Mercury - 00:54 UTC. Venus and Mercury will share the same right ascension, with Venus passing 3°53' to the south of Mercury. Venus will be at mag -3.9, and Mercury at mag 0.1, both in the constellation Pisces. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.

  • March 18 - Conjunction of the Moon and Mercury - 18:09 UTC. The Moon and Mercury will share the same right ascension, with the Moon passing 7°43' to the south of Mercury. The Moon will be 1 days old. The Moon will be at mag -8.3 in the constellation Cetus, and Mercury at mag 0.3 in the neighboring constellation of Pisces. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope or pair of binoculars but will be visible to the naked eye.

  • March 18 - Conjunction of the Moon and Venus - 19:06 UTC. The Moon and Venus will share the same right ascension, with the Moon passing 3°44' to the south of Venus. The Moon will be 1 days old. The Moon will be at mag -8.4 in the constellation Cetus, and Venus at mag -3.9 in the neighboring constellation of Pisces. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.

  • March 20 - Close approach of Mars and NGC 6530 - 02:15 UTC. Mars and NGC6530 will make a close approach, passing within 0°49' of each other. Mars will be at mag 0.5, and NGC6530 at mag 4.6, both in the constellation Sagittarius. The pair will be a little too widely separated to fit comfortably within the field of view of a telescope, but will be visible through a pair of binoculars.

  • March 20 - March Equinox - 16:03 UTC. The March equinox marks the first day of spring for anybody living in the northern hemisphere and the first day of autumn for anybody living in the southern hemisphere. On the day of the equinox, everywhere on Earth has almost exactly 12 hours of day and night, as the Sun's annual journey through the constellations of the zodiac carries it across the celestial equator. The word equinox is derived from the Latin words aequus (equal) and nox (night) Wherever you live on Earth, on the day of the equinox the Sun will rise from the point on the horizon which lies due east, and set beneath the point which lies due west.

  • March 24 - Makemake at opposition - 14:04 UTC. 136472 Makemake will be well placed for observation, in the constellation Coma Berenices. It will be visible for much of the night, reaching its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time.

  • March 29 - Conjunction of Venus and Uranus - 00:10 UTC. Venus and Uranus will share the same right ascension, with Venus passing 0°04' to the south of Uranus. Venus will be at mag -3.9, and Uranus at mag 5.9, both in the constellation Pisces. The pair will be close enough to fit within the field of view of a telescope, but will also be visible through a pair of binoculars.

  • March 31 - C/2015 O1 (PANSTARRS) reaches its brightest. Comet C/2015 O1 (PANSTARRS) is forecast to reach its brightest, at around mag 12.9. It will lie at a distance of 3.75 AU from the Sun, and at a distance of 3.24 AU from the Earth.

  • March 31 - Full Moon, Blue Moon - 12:38 UTC. The Moon will be located on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun and its face will be will be fully illuminated. Since this is the second full moon in the same month, it is sometimes referred to as a blue moon. This year is particularly unique in that January and March both contain two full moons while February had no full moon.

Video courtesy Hubble Space Telescope

Sources: In The Sky by Dominic Ford, NASA, The Watchers

Featured image: Squeeze the Sun by Ben Phillips, The Watchers

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