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What’s In March’s Night Skies

Planets

Venus is the only planet viewable in the early evening, and through March it’ll move from the Pisces (The Fish) Constellation, through the Aries (The Ram) and into the Taurus (The Bull) Constellation. It’ll set at the beginning of the month at 20:46 (AWST) and by the end of the month at 20:16 (AWST). Venus will also reach its greatest elongation in the West on the 25th of March at 08:00 (AWST) and will then start heading back towards the
sun.

Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are visible in the early morning. The Mercury the first rock from the sun in the Aquarius (The Water Bearer) Constellation during March, rising at 05:32 at the beginning the month, and by the end of March, it rises at 04:20. Mercury will also reach its greatest elongation in the East on the 24th of March at 10:00 (AWST) and will then start heading back towards the sun.

Mars the red planet is visible at the beginning of March in the Sagittarius (The Archer) Constellation as a bright orange dot rising at 01:13 (AWST) and will move into the Capricorn (The Sea goat) Constellation by the end of the month where the planet will rise at 00:51 am (AWST).

Jupiter is visible in the Sagittarius (The Archer) Constellation through this month. Jupiter will rise at the beginning of March at 02:01 am and will rise at 00:26 (AWST) by the end of March. Saturn can also be found in the Sagittarius (The Archer) Constellation at the beginning of March with the planet rising at 02:43. By the end of March, it’ll be very close to Mars in the Capricorn (The Sea goat) Constellation and rising at 00:56 (AWST).

Saturn can also be found in the Sagittarius (The Archer) Constellation at the beginning of March with the planet rising at 02:43 am and by the end of March, it’ll be very close to Mars in the Capricorn (The Sea Goat) Constellation and rising at 00:56 am (AWST).

Venus on the 15/03/20 at 07:00 pm. Image Credit: Stellarium Venus near its greatest elongation in the West on the evening of 25/03/20. Image Credit: Stellarium
Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn on the 15/03/20 at 05:30 am. Image Credit: Stellarium Mercury near its greatest elongation in the East on the evening of 24/03/20. Image Credit: Stellarium

Conjunctions and Occultation

Conjunctions involve objects in the Solar System, and more distant objects, such as a star. It’s an apparent phenomenon caused by the observer’s perspective where multiple objects that aren’t close together appear close in the sky.

In an occultation, an object passes across the line of sight between an observer and another object. A solar eclipse is an occultation of the Sun by the Moon.

  • 02/03/20 – Conjunction of The Moon and Aldebaran (Where to look)
  • 05/03/20 – Conjunction of The Moon, Castor and Pollux (Where to look)
  • 08/03/20 – Conjunction of The Moon and Regulus (Where to look)
  • 12/03/20 – Conjunction of The Moon and Spica (Where to look)
  • 15/03/20 – Conjunction of The Moon and Antares (Where to look)
  • 18/03/20 – Alignment of The Moon, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn (Where to look)
  • 19/03/20 – Conjunction of The Moon, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn (Where to look)
  • 20/03/20 – Conjunction of Mars and Jupiter (Where to look)
  • 21/03/20 – Conjunction of The Moon, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn (Where to look)
  • 22/03/20 – Conjunction of The Moon and Mercury (Where to look)
  • 27/03/20 – Alignment of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn (Where to look)
  • 28/03/20 – Conjunction of The Moon and Venus (Where to look)
  • 28/03/20 – Alignment of The Moon, Venus and Aldebaran (Where to look)

Astronomical Events This Month:

The March Equinox

Equinoxes and Solstices. Image Copyright: timeanddate.comOn Friday the 20th of March, The Northward Equinox occurs at 11:49 am (AWST), marking the beginning of astronomical Spring for the Northern Hemisphere, and the start of Autumn for the Southern Hemisphere. This is an exact moment when the Sun’s declination equals 0 as seen from the Earth. The two points where the ecliptic or the imaginary path the Sun seem to trace out along the celestial sphere meets the celestial equator are known as the equinoctial points.

The Equinox (literally meaning ‘equal nights’ in Latin) means that night and day are nearly equal worldwide, and that the Sun rises due east of an observer on the equinox and sets due west. The term Equilux is sometimes used to discern the difference between the true Equinox and the point when sunlight length actually equals the length of the night. Several factors play a role in this, including the time it takes the physical diameter of the Sun to clear the horizon, atmospheric refraction, and the observer’s true position in their respective time zone. The Equilux occurs within a few days of either Equinox.

Things to Look at This Month:

Messier 46:

Messier 46 is an unusual open star cluster in that it appears to have a planetary nebula (NGC2438) embedded in it. The cluster is about 40 light-years across and located some 5,500 light-years away from Earth. There are an estimated 500 stars in the cluster, and most are around 300 million years old — very young for stars. While the planetary nebula appears to lie within M46, it is most likely unrelated to the cluster as it doesn’t share the cluster’s radial velocity. The star of this planetary nebula is a white dwarf with the surface temperature of about 74,700°C which makes it’s one of the hottest stars known to us.

Messier 46 on the 15/03/20 at 9:00 pm. Image Credit: Stellarium Messier 46 - Image Credit: Astro Bruce (http://astrobruce.weebly.com)
Eta Carinae and the Carina Nebula:

Variable brightness and Colour, Eta Carinae is one of the most remarkable stars in the heavens. When we say “Eta Carinae” we refer to the star itself which for Perth is a circumpolar star (We see the star all year round) and not the nebula.

Eta Carinae is 100 times the Sun’s mass and 4 million times brighter, those this brightness has been unstable with the star being recorded over the past 300 years between magnitude -0.8 which is as bright as Canopus and +7.9. It’s a star that’s sometimes in the news as it’s expected to become a supernova within the next 1 million years and will be a spectacular sight when it occurs, being visible by day and possibly bright enough to read by at night.

Eta Carinae is very likely a binary star with the smaller partner orbiting in a highly elliptical orbit of 5.5 years. The Carinae Nebula (NGC 3372), which surrounds Eta Carinae, is a large, bright star-formation region which has produced a number of very massive stars including Eta Carinae. At around 260 light years the Carina Nebula is around 7 times the size of Great Orion Nebula, but due to its greater distance, it only spans twice the width. There are many O-type stars, young (~2 million years), hot and bright that energise the entire Eta Carinae nebulae.

Carina Nebula on the 15/03/20 at 09:00 pm. Image Credit: Stellarium The Carina Nebula. Image Credit: Roger Groom Eta Carinae. Image Credit: NASA
The Jewel Box:

An open cluster the Jewel Box can be found very close in the Crux (Southern Cross) Constellation, the Jewel Box is located some 6,440 light years away from Earth and is 14 light-years across. The cluster contains just over 100 stars, and with an estimated age of its stars being just 14 million years, this star cluster is one of the youngest clusters that we’ve found. The Jewel Box cluster also has some of the brightest stars in the Milky Way galaxy. These stars are supergiants and the red, white and blue stars in the centre of the cluster look very much like the lights of a traffic light.

Jewel Box on the 15/03/20 at 9:00 pm. Image Credit: Stellarium The Jewel Box in perspective - Image credit: ESO, NASA/ESA, Digitized Sky Survey 2 and Jesús Maíz Apellániz
Tarantula Nebula:

The Tarantula Nebula is an Emission Nebula, found in one of our galaxy’s satellite galaxies, the Large Magellanic Cloud. The nebula is approximately 160,000 light-years away from our Solar System and is 300 light-years across.

An extremely luminous object, the Tarantula Nebula’s luminosity is so great that if it were as close to Earth as the Orion Nebula, the Tarantula Nebula would cast shadows and take up 20% of the horizon.

As one the most active starburst region known in the Local Group of galaxies, the Tarantula Nebula resides on the leading edge of the Large Magellanic Cloud where ram pressure is stripping, and the compression of the interstellar medium likely resulting from this is at a maximum.

Tarantula Nebula on the 15/02/19 at 9:00 pm. Image Credit: Stellarium NGC 2070 Tarantula Nebula. Image Credit & Copyright: Peter Ward (Barden Ridge Observatory)
Omega Centauri:

Omega Centauri or NGC 5139 is the largest and brightest globular cluster of 180 in Milky Way and is the second largest known, with only Mayall II in the Andromeda Galaxy being larger coming ins about twice its mass. The Globular cluster is located in Centaurus Constellation and it’s a naked eye ‘star’ and clearly visible in binoculars as a ‘fuzzy blob’. Omega Centauri contains at least 3 million stars and the cluster has a diameter of roughly 150 light-years and the stars are roughly 12 billion years old. The average distance between the stars at the centre is around 10% of a light year or more than 100 times the diameter of our solar system. It may be a dwarf galaxy that has been captured and disrupted by the Milky Way galaxy and measurements of its star movement by Hubble has indicated that a black hole may be located at the core of the cluster.

Omega Centauri on the 15/03/20 at 9:00 pm. Image Credit: Stellarium Omega Centauri - Image Credit & Copyright: Joaquin Polleri & Ezequiel Etcheverry (Observatorio Panameño en San Pedro de Atacama)

Phases of The Moon:

March 2020 Moon phases

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