Wednesday, March 2, 2011

March 2011 Highlights

March is one of my favorite months, there is spring break, St. Patrick's day, the beginning of spring, and lots of birthdays (mine included). It also is when things start to warm up and more people can tolerate being outdoors at night, a when more people start coming outside to do observing. It isn't as nice as a warm summer's eve, but its getting there. Although if you are in the southern hemisphere the opposite is probably true. Anyways, I wanted to start a new monthly segment that covers some of the astronomical highlights of the coming month. This includes Saturn brightening every night as it nears opposition (closest to the Earth) in early April, and Venus bright in the dawn sky for the whole month.

So here's what else you can look forward to:

March 4: New Moon: The Moon is located between the Sun and the Earth, not visible from the Earth.

March 5-7: Crescent Moon & Jupiter: About half an hour after sunset, looking west, you should be able to see the thin crest of the waxing Moon and a bright 'star' nearby. That bright star will be Jupiter.

March 11: Moon and Pleiades: The Pleiades is probably the closest open star cluster to Earth, and a wonderful jeweled sight on their own through binoculars or a wide view telescope. They appear as a fingernail sized smudge in the night sky to the naked eye. With the moon nearby, this could be beautiful observing spectacle.

March 12: First Quarter Moon: The Moon is halfway through the waxing phase, a great time for observing as the shadows provide wonderful contrast.

March 15: Jupiter & Mercury Conjunction: Appearing low in the west at dusk, just a couple of degrees apart (about the width of a finger at arms length). Jupiter will be bright and closer to the horizon, Mercury will be right above it, but slightly dimmer. Mercury is a tricky object that not many people get to see because of its proximity to the Sun. I've only seen it twice, so if you get the opportunity, go out as this is a wonderful occasion.

March 17: Jupiter at Perihelion: That means that Jupiter will be at its closest to the Sun along its 12 year orbit. That doesn't mean it will be closest to the Earth, but it will still be bright (that comes in October, which will be a great sight). But as soon as night falls in March, expect it to be big and bright.

March 19: Full Moon: The Moon will be on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun. The Moon is seen as fully illuminated from the Earth. Early Native American tribe's traditionally give every full moon of the year a name, this moon is known as the Full Worm Moon, as this is about the time earthworms started to reappear from the softened ground.

March 20: March (Spring) Equinox: For the northern hemisphere, hurray! Spring is officially here. In the southern hemisphere, it is the beginning of Autumn. Equinox's occur when the Sun shines down directly on the equator, night and day are nearly equal lengths all around the world.
      Bonus: Moon & Saturn:  Early in the morning on the 20th, the Moon and Saturn will be close together.

March 26: Last Quarter Moon: Halfway through the Moon's waning phase, The next New Moon will be April 3rd.

March 27: Venus & Neptune: An early morning event, near dawn, Venus will be less then a degree away from Neptune. Neptune will be entirely washed out by Venus's light to the naked eye, but it might be resolvable with a proper telescope set up.

March 30-31: Venus & Moon: For you early risers, as dawn Venus will be easily visible near the waning crescent Moon. Venus will be the very bright morning 'star', and will remain until August 2011.

So that's all that I can find for this month. Happy observing everyone!

EDIT: Oh yeah, I got a spiffy new profile pic thanks to this cool fellow over here, Jesse. Check it out.


Raw said...

Awesome post, lots of great info there.
Your wording is a little confusing regarding the new moon though.
Obviously you can see it from Earth, it just isn't reflecting any sunlight so it's dim.
I happen to like the new moon phase a lot, it's at least as cool as a full moon in my book.

ScottD said...

I wished I lived somewhere where I could see something. Had to sell telescope because there are too many lights. Cant see anything:(

Android News and Resources said...

Some neat things to look forward to for the month of March!

Aaron M. Gipson said...

my birthday is on St. Patrick's Day, so I've always had a special affinity for March. It's nice to have a celestial schedule for the month now too! Thanks man, you are slowly becoming one of my favorites!

RQ said...

Sounds like there should be some cool stuff to look at, hopefully there weather cooperates.

Nina said...

March 17th is my birthday too! I'm going to go look for Jupiter and make a wish or something.

rinns said...

March is all of a sudden one of my favourite months :D

gekomaster said...

Bring it on march!, can't wait!

mac-and-me said...

a new moon? more details please!

mac-and-me said...

forgot my lost posting, you mean "new moon" as in moon phases
sorry english is not my native language

Anonymous. said...

March, come!

obi said...

excellent stuff, enjoyed the read.

Chuck said...

We get a fair bit of light pollution here so star gazing is tough. However, a month ago me and some friends went winter camping in the Scottish mountains. The sky was unlike anything I've ever seen before, hundreds if not thousands of stars were visible. It was incredible.

baxxman said...

Well what about Germany?

Jim said...

Excellent. Happy New Worm Moon, everyone.

Grafted said...

Awesome blog, following

Jung said...

I should try checking out Neptune, I've only seen Mars.

Astronomy Pirate said...

@baxxman, Germany is in the northern hemisphere, so it will be the same as all the rest of the north.

@Chuck, light pollution can suck, but getting out to a dark sky site is always amazing. Also Jupiter and Venus are usually bright enough to see despite light pollution. I know I've seen on the news a few times where people have been idiots in cities and thought they were UFOs.

@mac-and-me, Raw, sorry about the confusing language I try to make it as simple as I can.

Anonymous said...

Nice, I always hear about these things and then forget about them. This'll be a good reference.

Christophe said...

Looking forward to the full moon, so I can justify my insanity.

Robert Fünf said...

Cool. I'll have to watch for some of these events. Luckily there's a radio tower nearby, so I can away from the city lights.

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