If you not a fan of winter then this month will give you a few reasons to celebrate. Spring is on its way. On the 20th we have the vernal equinox. After that date the days become longer than the nights. This is followed on the 31st of March when British summer times stars and it will be around 8 pm before it becomes dark. March will be the best month this year to spot the elusive planet Mercury, using its bigger neighbour Venus as a marker.
The evening sky is transitioning to the stars and constellations that will adorn the heavens for the next few months. So, if you are a fan of Orion and its retinue, get your looks in fast, because those stars will be all but gone by the end of April. Of his retinue, only Capella, Procyon and Gemini are reasonably high up. Ursa Major is practically overhead. Cassiopeia is low in the northern sky, with Vega in the east. The southern sky is dominated by the constellation of Leo, while the brightest star on view is the glorious orange coloured Arcturus, in the constellation of Bootes. The Milky Way is not as conspicuous as in winter.
Venus is brightening in the evening sky, and will be at its greatest elongation on the 24th March. At the start of this month it’s falling below the horizon at 10pm. At the end of the month the evening star will be visible until after midnight, blazing at magnitude –4.3.
Lying in Aries, the planet Uranus sets around 9.30pm. At a dim magnitude of +5.9. It sinks into the twilight glow by the months end. You can use Venus as a guide to locate Uranus, on the 7th March. Using binoculars swing 2 degrees to the left of Venus and the greenish star is Uranus.
Jupiter is prominent in the dawn sky. Shining at magnitude -2.0 and rising around 4am. It’s performing a stately dance with Saturn and Mars, also lying in the constellation of Sagittarius. All appearing above the horizon about the same time. Saturn is located to the left of Jupiter, ten times fainter at magnitude +0.7, and shining with a yellowish glow. Mars at magnitude +1.0 stars the month to the right of the two others, but the red planet speeds leftwards, passing under Jupiter and Saturn on the 31st March.
On the 23rd of the month, use Mars to locate distant Pluto, when it lies just 50 arcseconds away. You will need a 250mm telescope of larger. Between 4.30 and 5.30am, use a high magnification to observe the red planet. The faint star just above and to the left at magnitude +14 is the dwarf planet. If you use an inverting telescope its to the right and below Mars.
Neptune is lost in the Suns glare, as is Mercury, though it’s at its western elongation on the 24th March.
1st March – These next few evenings, watch for two brilliant heavenly bodies to pop out into your western sky after sunset: the moon and the dazzling planet Venus. The moon shines in front of the constellation Taurus the Bull, and the moon’s lit side points directly at Venus, which sits much lower in the sky and closer to the horizon. Given clear skies, you should have no trouble seeing the moon and Venus, which rank as the 2nd-brightest and 3rd-brightest celestial objects, respectively, after the sun.
3rd March – These next few evenings, the waxing moon is moving inside the ‘Winter Circle’, sometimes called the Winter Hexagon. It’s a large circular (hexagonal) star asterism, consisting of six 1st-magnitude stars in six separate constellations:
6th March – The bright waxing gibbous moon shines in front of Cancer the Crab, the faintest constellation of the zodiac. Although the moon marks Cancer’s place in the sky on this night, the moonlit glare will make Cancer tough to see.
7th March – The moon is moving through the constellation Leo the Lion, past Regulus, the brightest star in Leo, representing the Lion’s Heart. On these nights, the glare of the bright waxing gibbous moon will bleach out the Lion’s stars. But you’ll likely see Regulus, which is a 1st-magnitude star, that is, one of our sky’s brightest stars.
11th March – Look eastward before going to bed and you just might catch the bright waning gibbous moon and the star Spica over the horizon. First look for the moon and that nearby bright star will be Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo the Maiden. At far-northern latitudes, the moon and Spica rise quite late. So if you’re not one for staying up late, you can always get up before dawn to view the moon and Spica in the morning sky.
18th March – Before dawn, the moon will be at or near its half-lit last quarter phase, and, before dawn, the moon’s lit side will be pointing directly at three brilliant morning planets: Jupiter, Mars and Saturn.
25th to 27th March – A very thin crescent moon will be beneath the planet Venus for an hour or so after sunset.
28th to 30th March – These next several evenings, use the waxing crescent moon and the dazzling planet Venus to locate the constellation Taurus the Bull. The moon and Venus pop out almost immediately after sunset, lighting up the western evening twilight. Given clear skies, they’ll be hard to miss, because the moon and Venus rank as the 2nd-brightest and 3rd-brightest celestial bodies, respectively, after the sun.
The phases of the Moon:-
First quarter 2nd March
Full Moon 9th March
Last quarter 16th March
New Moon 24th March