What’s Up March 2024

A monthly look at astronomical events in the sky and on Earth

Compiled by Steve Sawyer

Hello and welcome to our March update. We’re entering the first meteorological month of Spring. And this year, spring has made an early appearance (in our garden at least). With daffodils blooming already and the snowdrops fading fast. As the days noticeably lengthen, we encourage you to enjoy the extended evenings while they last.

So what’s on this month?

On March 20, the Sun crosses the celestial equator, marking the vernal equinox and the start of spring. Daylight Saving Time kicks off on March 30–31, So don’t forget to switch over to daylight saving in your scope settings!

Prominent features this month are the constellation of Cepheus, recognizable near the Milky Way with its house-like shape, features prominently early in March alongside the distinctive ‘W’ of Cassiopeia. Among its stars, µ Cephei stands out as a red supergiant, one of the largest known stars, significantly larger than the Sun. δ Cephei, another key star, serves as a benchmark for Cepheid variables, crucial for calculating cosmic distances and understanding the scale of the universe.

Also of note in March is the Practical Astronomy Show – The largest astronomy show in the UK (practicalastroshow.com)
Which is free to attend and with free parking too.

Sky Diary


Date Time Event Details
03 08:54 Antares 0.4ºS of the Moon  
03 15:23 Last Quarter Moon  
03 18:01 Minor planet Juno at opposition mag. 8.7
08 05:00 Mars 3.5ºN of the Moon mag. 1.2
08 08:18 Neptune 0.5ºS of Mercury Neptune mag. 8.0, Mercury mag. -1.5
08 17:00 Venus 3.3ºN of the Moon mag. -3.8
09 17:28 Saturn 1.5ºN of the Moon mag. 1.0
10 07:04 Moon at perigee 356,896 km (closest of the year)
10 09:00 New Moon  
10 19:26 Neptune 0.5ºN of the Moon mag. 8.0
11 02:31 Mercury 1.0ºN of the Moon mag. -1.3
14 01:02 Jupiter 4.0ºS of the Moon mag. -2.1
14 11:35 Uranus 3.4ºS of the Moon mag. 5.8
15 23:43 Aldebaran 9.9ºN of the Moon  
17 04:11 First Quarter  
19 07:24 Pollux 1.4ºN of the Moon  
22 05:27 Regulus 3.6ºS of the Moon  
23 15:45 Moon at apogee 406,294 km
24 22:34 Mercury at greatest elongation 18.7ºE, mag. -0.2
25 07:00 Full Moon  
25 07:14 Penumbral lunar eclipse  
26 20:23 Spica 1.4ºS of the Moon  
30 15:03 Antares 0.3ºS of the Moon  
31   Summer Time begins (BST in UK)  

This table captures the astronomical events for March, including phases of the moon, planetary alignments, and other notable occurrences.

Sky Maps

looking South on the 15th at 22:00

Looking North on the 15th at 22:00

 

 

The two charts above show all DSOs of magnitude 6.0 or brighter. They are both taken from
SkyViewCafe.com and correct for the 15th of the month. For a clickable list of Messier objects with images, use the Wikipedia link.

March Objects

The Sun

Now that it’s become visible again after all the rain the Sun is again pretty active. The current main interest is Sunspot AR3590 which has become a significant point of interest.

This giant sunspot, now the largest of Solar Cycle 25, has expanded rapidly, increasing its area by a quarter in just 48 hours. Its size is notable, being 60% as large as the sunspot responsible for the Carrington Event in 1859, highlighting potential risks for modern technology. Recently, AR3590 produced three X-flares, including the cycle’s strongest flare (X6.3), and several M-class explosions, demonstrating its capacity for significant solar activity. Its direct Earth-facing position raises concerns for possible geoeffective impacts.

Resources

For more info on the sun and solar weather look here : –

Space Weather Enthusiasts Dashboard | NOAA / NWS Space Weather Prediction Center

Auroa Forecasts

A bit US centred but still useful

Aurora Dashboard (Experimental) | NOAA / NWS Space Weather Prediction Center

And our own Met-office have an excellent space weather forecast page here Space Weather – Met Office

The Moon

 

March moon calendar from Sky View Café (skyviewcafe.com)

The March Full Moon carries several names like Worm Moon, Sap Moon, and Crow Moon. The Worm Moon marks the appearance of earthworms as the ground warms (or dries out hopefully!), symbolizing the end of winter.
The Sap Moon relates to the maple sap harvest, crucial in many cultures.
The Crow Moon denotes the crows’ return, signalling spring’s start.

Additionally, the Lenten Moon aligns with Lent, representing a period of reflection and preparation for Easter. These names underscore the deep connections between seasonal changes and cultural traditions

  • March 3 – Last Quarter: Moon 0.4ºN of Antares.
  • March 8: Moon passes 3.5ºS of Mars. Later, 3.3ºS of Venus.
  • March 9: Moon 1.5ºS of Saturn (mag. 1.0).
  • March 10: Moon 0.5ºS of Neptune (mag. 8.0), then 1.0ºS of Mercury (mag. -1.3).
  • March 14: Moon 4.0ºN of Jupiter (mag. -2.1) and 3.4ºN of Uranus (mag. 5.8).
  • March 15: Moon 9.9ºS of Aldebaran.
  • March 19 – First Quarter: Moon 1.4ºS of Pollux.
  • March 22: Moon 3.6ºN of Regulus.
  • March 25 – Full Moon: Penumbral lunar eclipse, Moon near the umbra.
  • March 26: Moon 1.4ºN of Spica.
  • March 30: Moon 0.3ºN of Antares.

Moon Feature

Crater Clavius

  • Location: Situated in the southern highlands of the Moon, near the lunar terminator, this makes it easier to observe because of the shadows cast by its features.
  • Size: Clavius is one of the largest craters on the Moon, with a diameter of about 225 kilometres (140 miles).
  • Depth: The walls of Clavius are steep and drop about 3 kilometres (1.9 miles) below the surrounding terrain.

What makes Clavius particularly interesting are the several smaller craters within its walls, creating a chain that demonstrates impacts of various sizes and ages. This nested appearance provides a unique view into the history of lunar impacts. The crater is named after the Jesuit mathematician Christoph Clavius, who was a key figure in the development of the Gregorian calendar.

Observing Tips: Clavius is best observed just after the first quarter Moon, when the terminator is nearby, enhancing the crater’s depth and the relief of its interior craters. This phase allows for the shadows to accentuate the crater’s features, making them more pronounced. A telescope with a moderate magnification is recommended to fully appreciate the details within Clavius, though its large size makes it visible through binoculars as well.

See the sky diary for this months lunar events as there are some nice viewing opportunities .

A full yearly lunar calendar can be found here :-

https://www.mooninfo.org/moon-phases/2023.html

Planets

Mercury

Too close to the Sun at the beginning of the month to be visible. But as the month progresses can be seen in the evening after sunset.

Venus

Very low in the morning sky at the start of the month, but will soon be lost in the bright morning sky.

Mars

Not easy to see this month.

Jupiter

Still nicely placed for viewing in the southwest this month

Saturn

Not visible this month

Uranus

Evening twilight will make this a difficult target as the month progresses

Neptune

Not visible

Meteor Showers

None this month, but keep an eye out for sporadics.

Comets

Comet C/2021 S3 PanSTARRS

Comet C/2021 S3 PanSTARRS will be visible in the morning sky from 1-17 March and 29-31 March, shining at a binocular-friendly eighth magnitude or brighter. It travels from Serpens to Vulpecula, through Aquila, skirting the southern edge of the summer triangle and heading north-northeast.

The comet passes near several deep-sky objects like the Coathanger Cluster, also known as Collinder 399, which is not a true star cluster but a noticeable asterism. Key dates for observation are 1 March before dawn, 14 March at magnitude +4.6, and 22 March when it closely approaches magnitude +3.3 star Eta (η) Aquilae.

The comet’s path crosses the Coathanger from 29 March and reaches the Coathanger-like asterism on the 30th. The crossing event between the comet and the Coathanger Cluster is a highlight for observers and takes place between 29 and 31 March.

Astronomical twilight begins around 05:00 UT in early March, providing dark skies essential for comet viewing. The comet will be positioned at about 22 degrees above the horizon at the start of dawn in the UK, moving through the Coathanger Cluster by the end of the month, at around 40 degrees above the horizon during true darkness.

The best strategy for locating the comet is before the Moon rises too high, as the moonlight can interfere with the comet’s visibility.

These are the other viewable comets this month, the ones listed below start at mag 7 and go to mag 13.

Name Mag
103P/Hartley 2 7
C/2017 K2 (PanSTARRS) 12
C/2022 E2 (ATLAS) 13
29P/Schwassmann- Wachmann 1 13

Deep Sky (DSO’s)

Monoceros, the Unicorn

This is a constellation situated on the celestial equator, bordered by Orion to the west, Gemini to the north, Canis Major to the south, and Hydra to the east. Despite its lack of bright stars, Monoceros contains several interesting deep sky objects.

Rosette Nebula (NGC 2237)

Rosette Nebula (NGC 2237), a large, circular emission nebula that is associated with a star cluster (NGC 2244). This nebula is an active stellar nursery, where gas and dust have coalesced to form new stars. The Rosette Nebula is approximately 5,000 light-years from Earth and spans about 130 light-years in diameter.

Cone Nebula

Which is a part of NGC 2264), named for its conical shape visible in photographs. It is part of a larger star-forming region that also includes the Christmas Tree Cluster. This area is rich in young, hot stars that illuminate the surrounding gas and dust, creating a vibrant spectacle in the infrared spectrum.

Hubble’s Variable Nebula (NGC 2261)

A small nebula surrounding R Monocerotis, a young variable star. It is known for its changes in luminosity, which are caused by dust clouds near the star, casting shadows onto the nebula.

NGC 2346

A planetary nebula often referred to as the “Butterfly Nebula” due to its symmetrical, wing-like structure. It is the result of a dying star shedding its outer layers.

Plaskett’s Star (HD 47129)

A massive binary star system located within Monoceros. It is one of the most massive binary systems known, with both stars being supergiants.

NGC 2301

An open star cluster that is relatively young and contains a rich field of stars. It is known for its bright members and compactness.

ISS and other orbiting bits

Use the this NASA website for exact timings for York overpasses. York, England, United Kingdom | Sighting Opportunity | Spot The Station | NASA

Date Visible Max Height* Appears Disappears Share Event
Thu Feb 29, 3:35 AM < 1 min 12° 12° above E 10° above E    
Thu Feb 29, 5:07 AM 4 min 55° 41° above WSW 10° above ESE    
Fri Mar 1, 4:21 AM 2 min 38° 38° above ESE 10° above ESE    
Fri Mar 1, 5:54 AM 6 min 33° 13° above W 10° above SE    
Sat Mar 2, 3:36 AM < 1 min 12° 12° above E 10° above E    
Sat Mar 2, 5:08 AM 4 min 41° 35° above SW 10° above SE    
Sun Mar 3, 4:22 AM 2 min 31° 31° above SE 10° above ESE    
Sun Mar 3, 5:55 AM 5 min 20° 11° above WSW 10° above SSE    
Mon Mar 4, 3:36 AM < 1 min 12° 12° above ESE 10° above ESE    
Mon Mar 4, 5:09 AM 3 min 26° 26° above SW 10° above SSE    
Tue Mar 5, 4:23 AM 2 min 22° 22° above SSE 10° above SE    
Tue Mar 5, 5:57 AM 2 min 11° 10° above SW 10° above SSW    
Wed Mar 6, 5:11 AM 2 min 15° 15° above SSW 10° above S    
Thu Mar 7, 4:25 AM < 1 min 10° 10° above SSE 10° above SSE    

Useful Resources

https://starlust.org/the-night-sky-in-february/

https://www.spacedaily.com/

http://www.n3kl.org/sun/noaa.html

http://skymaps.com/downloads.html

http://www.seasky.org/astronomy/astronomy-calendar-2023.html

https://www.rmg.co.uk/stories/topics/what-are-names-full-moons-throughout-yearhttp://www.deepskywatch.com/deepsky-guide.html

https://www.constellation-guide.com/

Top 10 Winter Sky Targets for Skywatchers | Space

and of course the sky at night magazine!

 

 

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