Astro Bob: March sky celestial highlights
Our March astronomical calendar features several nice conjunctions and a delightful Arabic star group near the Big Dipper.
We begin the month with a delightful close conjunction of Venus and Jupiter during evening twilight on March 1. Additional conjunctions between the moon and planets follow in the nights ahead, along with close pairings of Venus and Mars and bright star clusters. Mars is on the move, cruising eastward across the Winter Hexagon, while Venus commands the western sky at dusk. It’s so bright that novice skywatchers might mistake it for a UFO!
The Big Dipper rides high as well. Any clear night, just face northeast and tilt your head back for a look. Higher yet and above the Dipper, look for three pairs of stars that form the feet of Ursa Major the Great Bear. They’re also called the Three Leaps of the Gazelle, an ancient Arabic asterism that represents a gazelle running from a lion and leaving glowing hoof prints in the sky.
March 1 – Venus and Jupiter shine side-by-side just 0.5 degrees apart (one full-moon diameter) in the western sky at dusk. Look between 45 and 90 minutes after sunset. They’ll remain close through about March 3.
All month – Watch Mars, still bright at first magnitude, slowly slide east (left) across the Winter Hexagon this month as it follows its orbit around the sun. The Hexagon includes a half-dozen of winter’s brightest stars in a giant six-sided figure centered on Orion.
March 7 – Full Worm Moon
March 12 – Daylight Saving Time begins at 2 a.m. local time
March 14 – Last quarter moon
March 20 – Spring equinox. The official first day of spring starts at 4:24 p.m. Central Daylight Time. Day and night are each 12 hours long across the planet. The sun rises due east and sets due west.
March 21 – New moon
March 22 – Catch the fingernail crescent moon just 2 degrees above Jupiter low in the western sky from 30 to 45 minutes after sunset.
March 23 and 24 – Waxing lunar crescent appears below Venus on the March and above it on March 24. Best viewing time is 1-2 hours after sunset. Look west.
March 25 – Moon in conjunction with the Pleiades star cluster, also called the Seven Sisters. They’ll be just 1.5 degrees apart at dusk. Fabulous view in binoculars!
March 28 – First quarter moon
March 29-31 – Mars passes just 1 degree above (north) the bright, binocular star cluster M35 in the constellation Gemini. Center the planet in the field of view of your binoculars and look for a sparkly patch of fainter stars just below it.
March 30-31 – Saturn returns to view very low in the southeastern sky about an hour before sunup. It spends the year crawling across the constellation Aquarius.