Night Sky Guide for March 2020

Night Sky Guide for March 2020

March 2 - Moon at First Quarter - 19:58 UTC. The Moon will be prominent in the evening sky, setting around midnight. At this time in its monthly cycle of phases, it appears almost exactly half illuminated. Over the coming days, the Moon will set later each day, becoming visible for more of the night. Within a few days, it will not make it very far above the eastern horizon before nightfall. By the time it reaches full phase, it will be visible for much of the night, rising at around dusk and setting at around dawn.

March 2 - IC2602 is well placed. 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°23', 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 6 - Close approach of the Moon and M44 - 22:07 UTC. The Moon and M44 will make a close approach, passing within 1°23' of each other. The Moon will be 12 days old. The Moon will be at mag -12.6; and M44 will be at mag 3.1. Both objects will lie in the constellation of Cancer. They will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope but will be visible through a pair of binoculars.

March 8 - Neptune at solar conjunction - 12:24 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 the closest approach, Neptune will appear at a separation of only 1°00' 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 30.92 AU – since the two planets will lie on opposite sides of the solar system. If Neptune could be observed at this time, it would appear at its smallest and faintest on account of its large distance. It would measure 2.2 arcsec in diameter. Over the following weeks and months, Neptune will re-emerge to the west of the Sun, gradually becoming visible for ever-longer periods in the pre-dawn sky. After around six months, it will reach opposition, when it will be visible for virtually the whole night.

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°46', 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 - Conjunction of Venus and Uranus - 14:36 UTC. Venus and Uranus will share the same right ascension, with Venus passing 2°24' to the north of Uranus. Venus will be at mag -4.3, and Uranus at mag 5.9, both in the constellation Aries. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope but will be visible through a pair of binoculars.

March 9 - Full Moon - 17:48 UTC. The Moon will reach full phase. 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 month's full moon will take place unusually close to the time of the month when the Moon also makes its closest approach to the Earth – called its perigee. This means the moon will appear slightly larger and brighter than at other times, though any difference is imperceptible to the unaided eye. Perigee full moons such as this occur roughly once every 13 months. The sequence of full moons through the year are often assigned names according to the seasons in which they fall. This month's will be the third to fall in winter 2020 – the Lenten Moon. Over the nights following March 9, the Moon will rise around an hour later each day, becoming prominent later in the night. Within a few days, it will only be visible in the pre-dawn and early-morning sky. By the time it reaches the last quarter, a week after the full moon, it will rise at around midnight and set at around noon. At the exact moment when the Moon reaches full phase, it will lie at a declination of +08°39' in the constellation Leo, and so will appear high in the sky at all but the most extreme latitudes. It will be visible at all latitudes between 88°N and 71°S. Its distance from the Earth will be 357 000 km (221 829 miles).

March 14 - γ-Normid meteor shower. The γ-Normid meteor shower will be active from February 25 to March 28, producing its peak rate of meteors around March 14. Over this period, there will be a chance of seeing γ-Normid meteors from anywhere where the shower's radiant point – in the constellation Norma – is above the horizon.

March 15 - Asteroid 27 Euterpe at opposition - 09:34 UTC. Asteroid 27 Euterpe will be well placed for observation, lying in the constellation Virgo, well above the horizon for much of the night. Regardless of your location on the Earth, 27 Euterpe will reach its highest point in the sky around midnight local time.

March 16 - Moon at Last Quarter - 09:34 UTC. The Moon will be prominent in the dawn sky, rising at around midnight. Over the coming days, the Moon will rise later each day, so that it is visible for less time before sunrise and it less far above the eastern horizon before dawn. By the time it reaches new moon, it will rise at around dawn and set at around dusk, making it visible only during the daytime.

March 18 - Conjunction of the Moon and Mars - 08:19 UTC. The Moon and Mars will share the same right ascension, with the Moon passing 0°44' to the south of Mars. 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 -11.3, and Mars at mag 0.9, 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 to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.

March 18 - Close approach of the Moon and Mars - 08:25 UTC. The Moon and Mars will make a close approach, passing within 0°44' of each other. The Moon will be at mag -11.3, and Mars will be at mag 0.9. Both objects will lie in the constellation of Sagittarius. They will be a little too widely separated to fit comfortably 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 pair will also share the same right ascension – called conjunction.

March 18 - Conjunction of the Moon and Jupiter - 10:18 UTC. The Moon and Jupiter will share the same right ascension, with the Moon passing 1°30' to the south of Jupiter. At around the same time, the two objects will also make a close approach, technically called an appulse. The Moon will be at mag -11.3, and Jupiter at mag -2.1, 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 18 - Close approach of the Moon, Jupiter, and Mars - 10:32 UTC. The Moon, Jupiter, and Mars will make a close approach, passing within 1°30' of each other. The Moon will be at mag -11.3; Jupiter will be at mag -2.1, and Mars will be at mag 0.9. The trio will lie in the constellation of Sagittarius. They 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 trio will also share the same right ascension – called conjunction.

March 19 - Conjunction of the Moon and Saturn - 23:56 UTC. The Moon and Saturn will share the same right ascension, with the Moon passing 2°06' to the south of Saturn. At around the same time, the two objects will also make a close approach, technically called an appulse. The Moon will be at mag -11.1, and Saturn at mag 0.5, 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 19 - Close approach of the Moon and Saturn - 00:28 UTC. The Moon and Saturn will make a close approach, passing within 2°05' of each other. The Moon will be at mag -11.1 in Capricornus, and Saturn will be at mag 0.5 in Sagittarius. They 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 pair will also share the same right ascension – called conjunction.

March 20 - March equinox - 03:34 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 20 - Conjunction of Jupiter and Mars - 06:21 UTC. Jupiter and Mars will share the same right ascension, with Jupiter passing 0°42' to the north of Mars. At around the same time, the two objects will also make a close approach, technically called an appulse. Jupiter will be at mag -2.1, and Mars at mag 0.9, 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 to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.

March 20 - Close approach of Jupiter and Mars - 10:33 UTC. Jupiter and Mars will make a close approach, passing within 0°42' of each other.v

March 21 - Conjunction of the Moon and Mercury - 17:49 UTC. The Moon and Mercury will share the same right ascension, with the Moon passing 3°36' to the south of Mercury. The Moon will be at mag -9.6, and Mercury at mag 0.2, both in the constellation Aquarius. 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 22 - Mercury at dichotomy - 11:07 UTC. Mercury will reach half phase in its 2020 morning apparition. It will be shining brightly at mag 0.2.

March 23 - Conjunction of Mars and Pluto - 15:02 UTC. Mars and 134340 Pluto will share the same right ascension, with Mars passing 0°01' to the south of 134340 Pluto. At around the same time, the two objects will also make a close approach, technically called an appulse. Mars will be at mag 0.9, and 134340 Pluto at mag 15.1, both in the constellation Sagittarius. 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 23 - Close approach of Mars and Pluto - 15:09 UTC. Mars and 134340 Pluto will make a close approach, passing within 0°01' of each other. Mars will be at mag 0.9, and 134340 Pluto will be at mag 15.1. Both objects will lie in the constellation of Sagittarius. They will be close enough to fit within the field of view of a telescope, but will also be visible through a pair of binoculars. At around the same time, the pair will also share the same right ascension.

March 23 - Mercury at greatest elongation west - 22:47 UTC. Mercury will reach its greatest separation from the Sun in its March–April 2020 morning apparition. It will be shining brightly at mag 0.2.

March 24 - Venus at greatest elongation east - 07:30 UTC. Venus will reach its greatest separation from the Sun in its 2019–2020 evening apparition. It will be shining brightly at mag -4.4.

March 24 - New Moon - 09:28 UTC. The Moon will pass close to the Sun and become lost in the Sun's glare for a few days. The Moon's orbital motion carries it around the Earth once every four weeks, and as a result, its phases cycle from the new moon, through the first quarter, full moon and last quarter, back to new moon once every 29.5 days. This motion also means that the Moon travels more than 12° across the sky from one night to the next, causing it to rise and set nearly an hour later each day. Click here for more information about the Moon's phases. At the new moon, the Earth, Moon, and Sun all lie in a roughly straight line, with the Moon in the middle, appearing in front of the Sun's glare. In this configuration, we see almost exactly the opposite half of the Moon to that which is illuminated by the Sun, making it doubly unobservable because the side we see is unilluminated. Over the coming days, the Moon will rise and set an hour later each day, becoming visible in the late afternoon and dusk sky as a waxing crescent which sets soon after the Sun. By the first quarter, in a week's time, it will be visible until around midnight.

March 26 - 136472 Makemake at opposition - 08:35 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 around midnight local time. This optimal positioning occurs when 136472 Makemake is almost directly opposite the Sun in the sky. Since the Sun reaches its greatest distance below the horizon at midnight, the point opposite to it is highest in the sky at the same time. At around the same time that 136472 Makemake passes opposition, it also makes its closest approach to the Earth – termed its perigee – making it appear at its brightest and largest. This happens because when 136472 Makemake lies opposite the Sun in the sky, the solar system is lined up so that 136472 Makemake, the Earth and the Sun form a straight line with the Earth in the middle, on the same side of the Sun as 136472 Makemake.

March 27 - Venus at dichotomy - 00:46 UTC. Venus will reach half phase in its 2019–2020 evening apparition. It will be shining brightly at mag -4.4.

March 28 - Conjunction of the Moon and Venus - 10:37 UTC. The Moon and Venus will share the same right ascension, with the Moon passing 6°48' to the south of Venus. The Moon will be at mag -10.5, and Venus at mag -4.4, both in the constellation Aries. 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 31 - Conjunction of Saturn and Mars - 10:56 UTC. Saturn and Mars will share the same right ascension, with Saturn passing 0°55' to the north of Mars. At around the same time, the two objects will also make a close approach, technically called an appulse. Saturn will be at mag 0.4, and Mars at mag 0.8, both in the constellation Capricornus. The pair will be a little too widely separated to fit comfortably within the field of view of a telescope but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.

March 31 - Close approach of Saturn and Mars - 17:25 UTC. Saturn and Mars will make a close approach, passing within 0°54' of each other. Saturn will be at mag 0.4, and Mars will be at mag 0.8. Both objects will lie in the constellation Capricornus. They will be a little too widely separated to fit comfortably 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 pair will also share the same right ascension.

Video courtesy Hubble Sky Telescope

Sources: In The Sky by Dominic Ford, NASA

Featured image credit: NASA, ESA, and R. Cohen and P. Goudfrooij (STScI). Edit: TW

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