Night sky notes for March 2019 Geoff Mitchell
The March night sky now heralds the spring constellations as we head towards the vernal equinox on March 20th. The spring night sky contains many fine objects to view with both binocular and small telescopes and this month has a few notable events of special interest.
The Milky Way stretches from the constellation of Auriga , marked by the bright star Capella in the east up into Perseus and through the `W` shaped constellation of Cassiopeia high overhead and down along the cross shaped constellation of Cygnus low in the west . This faint band of stars best seen on dark moonless evenings
In the north Ursa Major, The Plough or The Great Bear is seen low with its handle or tail pointing to the horizon mid evening. Use the right hand pair of stars Dubhe and Merak (The pointers) to find the faint pole star Polaris and the position of North.
Mercury is visible low in evening twilight briefly during the first week in March.
The Red Planet Mars is visible low in the south west aspect early evening; telescopes show a small disk the `apparent diameter` reducing in size, as the distant between Mars and Earth increases. (Mars returns to favourable opposition in autumn 2020.) Mars moves into Taurus and is positioned just south of the Pleiades star cluster by late March.
The seven sisters’ (Pleiades, M45) star cluster are easily recognisable to the unaided eye as a small group of stars above the characteristic `V` shaped asterism of the `Hyades ` star cluster in the constellation of Taurus also noted for the bright, red foreground star Aldebaren. in Arabic Al Dabaran is `The follower ` of the Pleiades across the skies, in old English colloquially known as `the eye of the bull`.
By early evening the familiar winter constellations of Orion (The Hunter) is now slipping into the western skies making way for the spring constellations rising in the east.
The constellation of Gemini is easily recognised by the two bright stars Castor and Pollux and the characteristic rectangular shape of stars. The western end of the constellation is embedded within the rich star fields of the Milky Way. M35 an open cluster seen as a misty patch in binoculars is a very nice sight when viewed telescopically.
The spring constellation of Leo rises by mid evening, the brightest star Regulus and the `reversed question mark ` shaped star asterism of `The Sickle` makes this an easily recognisable constellation. Leo stretches eastward and is marked at the tail end by the star Denebola. Leo contains some moderately bright galaxy pairs visible in moderate sized telescopes on moonless evenings. M65/M66 and NGC 3628 form the famous galaxy triplet, all three galaxies being visible in the same telescopic field of view.
Mid way between Castor and Pollux (Gemini) and Regulus (Leo) lies the obscure constellation of Cancer (the Crab), with faint stars in the shape of an inverted `Y` the most striking feature is the splendid open cluster M44 (The Beehive Cluster) or Praesepe. The cluster is visible to the unaided eye as twice the apparent size of the Moon misty patch, is a magnificent sight when viewed with binoculars or low magnification telescope. To the south of M44 lies another nice open cluster M67.
This is a prelude to the galaxy rich spring skies visible in the coming months as the constellations of Virgo and Coma Berenices can now be seen rising by late evening. The Virgo cluster of Galaxies has many relatively bright galaxies visible in moderate sized telescopes on moonless clear evenings March 20th (the equinox) has equal day and night, the Sun now crosses north of the celestial equator , Spring in the northern hemisphere has begun. Note that UK clocks change to BST (add 1 hour) on Sunday March 30th
Comet 2018 Y1 (Iwamoto) is positioned in our evening skies in the constellation of Auriga fading from 8m magnitude. Comet Wirtanen moves south into the constellation of Leo Minor fading from 8.5m during the month- Finder charts for telescope users – see notes
Planets in March 2019
Mercury is at low in evening twilight in the first week in March.
Venus shines brightly and is positioned very low in south east at dawn.
Mars moves eastward into Taurus just south of M45 by month end.
Jupiter shines brightly low in dawn twilight, low in the constellation of Libra.
Saturn is low in UK skies in 2019 in the constellation of Sagittarius however the rings are well presented.
Uranus is poorly placed in evening twilight.
Neptune is at conjunction and is positioned in our daytime skies – best seen in autumn skies
Moons phases in March 2019
New Moon Mar 6th Moonless, best time for deep sky observing. (Solar eclipse)
First Quarter Mar 14th Best days to see shadow details in lunar craters (early evening)
Full Moon Mar 21st Best days to see bright ray craters like Copernicus / Tycho.
Last Quarter Mar 28th Moon visible in daytime skies. Do not look directly at the Sun.
Experience the Moon Illusion at moonrise /moonset, against foreground objects such as trees or buildings, the moon looks rather large (an optical illusion) – watch Full Moon rise March 21st 6:51 pm
Spring Equinox March 20th 22:00 UT, Sun crosses back north of celestial equator. Spring in N.Hemisphere begins
Meteor shower s Virginids show some slow meteors with long trails, peaking during April
The highlights of the month.
Mercury is low in the west during the first week in March [Only look after the Sun has completely set]
March skies, Milky Way visible high overhead on moonless evenings in darker skies.
Double cluster, on the Perseus /Cassiopeia border high overhead, nice pair of star clusters.
Pleiades (Seven Sister’s) star cluster (M45) now low in south west, best seen with binoculars.
Beehive cluster (M44) visible to the unaided eye but best seen with binoculars.
Telescopic triplet of galaxies M65/M66/NGC3628 in the constellation of Leo.
Virgo cluster of Galaxies – the brightest member galaxies can be detected with moderate telescopes.
The first chance to see the crescent moon is on March 7th [Only look after the Sun has completely set]
The 1.2% thin waxing crescent Moon is located close to the horizon with planet Mercury to the upper right of the moon – Moon set is 18:41.
More detailed sky notes and LAS Newsletters, Finder charts are available to LAS members via the Members` page on the LAS Website www.lutonastrolink.org.uk
Sky looking south at 8pm, mid March 2019
Orion is placed in the south west, draw a line through the belt stars, down to the bright star Sirius (which can appear to twinkle at low elevation) . Also known as The Dog Star, Sirius is in the constellation Canis Major (Greater Dog), whist the star Procyon is in the constellation Canis Minor (Lesser Dog). Extend a line though Orion’s belt upwards to find the red star Aldebaren in the constellation of Taurus and the Seven Sister’s star cluster.
Gemini is placed high in the south with Castor leading Pollux across the sky. To the south east the constellation of Leo noted by the bright star Regulus and the `Sickle` asterism of stars and outstretched body resembles a crouching lion , with the star Denebola at the tail end. Between Pollux and Regulus, binoculars show the nice `Beehive` star cluster M44 in the constellation of Cancer.
Comet Wirtanen 46P moves south into Leo Minor, fading from 8.5m magnitude (Telescope required)
Sky looking east at 8pm mid March 2019
The spring constellations now appear in the eastern sky by mid evening. The orange star Arcturus is found by following the curve of stars in the handle of the Plough down. The constellation of Bootes, resembles a `kite` or `Club ` in shape. Izar is a beautiful orange/ blue double star visible in small telescopes.
Virgo / Coma Berenices area contains a rich cluster of Galaxies [The Virgo super cluster]
The brightest member galaxies (limiting magnitude 10.5m) are shown below – moderate telescope required in dark / moonless conditions – averted vision recommended; many galaxies are low surface brightness objects
Sky looking north at 8pm mid March 2019
The Plough stands on its handle follow the pointer’s Dubhe and Merek to find the polestar Polaris
The `W` shaped constellation of Cassiopeia looks more like an `M` and is on the opposite side of the polestar to the Plough.
Sky looking west at 8pm mid March 2019
Venus shines brightly low in the west shortly after Sunset. Later in the evening Pegasus and Andromeda stand vertically sink towards the western horizon. In March the ecliptic is inclined steeply around the time of the equinox.
Comet 2018 Y1 Iwamoto – fading to 10m magnitude during March