To see a video of this information, go to my YouTube Channel
Welcome to Observing With Webb, where the armchair astronomer figures out what they’re looking at, why it’s so cool, and what they should check out next. Don’t forget to check out my Podbean page, YouTube Channel, and Twitter feed.
March is an interesting month, providing a look at all 5 naked-eye planets, Venus switching to the morning, and an occultation of Aldebaran.
PLANETS...well, the ones visible with your naked eye
Planets you can see around Sunset – Venus (W & E), Mars (SW)
Planets you can see throughout the night – Jupiter (EàSW)
Planets you can see in the Morning – Jupiter (SW), Saturn (SE)
Mercury – Mercury becomes visible around mid-March, rising in the sunset sky in the west. On the 18th, Venus and Mercury will be closest and will be about 8˚ away from each other, each about the same distance above the horizon. Each day after, Mercury gets easier to see, though not easy, as it is higher each day of March.
Venus – Venus undergoes a switcheroo this month, by diving lower and lower in the western sunset sky each night, until around the 16th when it gets pretty much too low to see. If you’re up for a little challenge, though, try finding Venus just within half an hour of sunset, then get up the next morning and look East to find Venus rising just 30 minutes before sunrise. After that, Venus will continue to rise higher each morning, and stay a “morning star” for pretty much the rest of 2017. If you have a telescope or binoculars, it will APPEAR as big as Jupiter this month, since it’s coming around the inside of its orbit, relative to Earth, and will be in its crescent phase and getting thinner all month.
Mars – Look W after sunset and Mars will be the ruddy red object in Pisces.
Saturn – Look SSE in the mornings before sunrise. It will only be about 25˚ above the horizon, much brighter than anything else around it, above and between Sagittarius and Scorpius
Jupiter – If you’re looking for Jupiter before going to bed, it rises in the East at 9:30pm at the beginning of the month and 7:30pm at the end of the month. Just look for the very bright object in the East, or if you’re getting up around sunrise, look to the SSW, no more than 20˚ above the horizon.
1st – Close Encounter – Moon, Mars, Venus – Look to the SW between 5:30pm and 8:30pm and you can catch a nice crescent Moon making a triangle with ruddy red Mars and brilliantly bright Venus.
4th – Occultation of Aldebaran – Almost all of the U.S. will be able to watch a very bright star DISAPPEAR behind the Moon! As the Moon slowly marches across the constellations, sometimes it passes in front of bright stars that we can see disappear and reappear, and on the night of the 4th the Moon will pass in front of Aldebaran in Taurus. The timing depends on your location (get times here), and there’s even a line where you’ll see Aldebaran graze the Moon and perhaps blink in and out of visibility due to the unevenness of the Moon’s surface (a LOT more details here). Timing here in Lancaster County, PA will be: Disappearance 11:07pm, Reappearance 11:35pm. It’s a late, but very short time to be out for something cool like this.
First Quarter Moon – 5th (Visible until midnight)
Full Moon – 12th (Visible all night)
12th – Daylight Savings Time Begins at 2am
14th – Close Encounter – Moon, Jupiter, Spica – Look E after 9:00pm or SW before 5:00am. On the 14th the Moon, Jupiter, and Spica will make a nice triangle in the sky, with Jupiter to the right of the Moon and Spica.
Last Quarter Moon – 20th (Visible from midnight into the morning)
20th – Close Encounter – Moon, Saturn – Look SE after 2am and before sunrise (6am). Saturn will be the very bright point 2˚ below the waning crescent Moon on the 20th.
20th - Spring Equinox - Astronomically the first day of Spring, even though meteorologically Spring starts in the beginning of March. Here’s some more info.
New Moon – 28th (darkest skies)
29th – 30th – Close Encounter – Moon, Mercury, Mars – Sunset is right around 6:30pm. On the 29th, if you have a clear view of the western horizon, you should be able to catch Mercury and the Moon about 15˚ above the horizon, 9˚ apart from each other. Binoculars should help. On the next night, the Moon will be higher, and about 7˚ to the left of Mars.
CONSTELLATIONS... (see sky map link at the bottom for a Star Map for this month – or ask Mr. Webb) Look straight up and you'll see...
After Sunset (sunset is around 5:30-6:30pm) – Auriga (Taurus is right nearby), Gemini
Between Sunset and Midnight – Cancer, Gemini, Lynx, and Leo later in the month - Extra Challenge! Find M44 in the Middle of Cancer – an open cluster of stars also known as the Beehive Cluster. You may be able to see it as a small fuzzy patch with your naked eye if you have very dark skies. However with a pair of binoculars or a telescope on low power, it will look like a hive of bees in the distance, hence its nickname.
Midnight – Leo, Leo Minor, Ursa Major’s legs
Early Morning – Corona Borealis, Hercules, Boötes (you can also find the Big Dipper’s handle, and starting from the inside of the handle, follow the arc that those four stars make past the last star in the handle about 30˚ or three fist-widths to the next very bright star you find which is Arcturus, the base of the constellation Boötes. Hence astronomers use the phrase “Follow the Arc to Arcturus”)
GENERAL CONSTELLATION FINDING TIPS:
Winter constellations: Orion is easy to spot as he is high in the south as the Sun sets. You can use Orion to find many other winter constellations.
Using Orion: Find Orion by looking for the three stars in a row that make up Orion’s belt in the South after 7pm. If you draw a line from the left star to the right star and keep going right about 20 degrees (about 2 fists at arm’s length) until you reach another very bright star, you will have reached the star Aldebaron in Taurus (the V). Follow that line a little more (about another fist) and you’ll find the Pleiades.
If you start at his belt again, but instead go the opposite way and draw a line from the right star in Orion’s belt to the left star, and keep going left about 20 degrees (2 fists again), you’ll come to the brightest star in the sky – Sirius – part of Canis Major.
Above these three constellations are Gemini and Auriga. The brightest stars in each of these constellations form a circle in the sky. Going clockwise - Aldebaron (Taurus) – Rigel (Orion – bottom right foot) – Sirius (Canis Major) – Procyon (Canis Minor) – Castor & Pollux (Gemini) – Capella (Auriga). It makes for great stargazing in the winter sky.
Use a sky map from www.skymaps.com to help you out.