SkyEye

March 2019

Welcome to SkyEye, your guide to this month's celestial events.

The Calendar

Both Earth and Mars reach an equinox this month, and on both planets, spring will be coming to the northern hemisphere and autumn to southern latitudes.

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Date Body Event
1 Moon, Saturn occultation of Saturn — visible from parts of the western Pacific
2 Moon descending node
Moon, Venus 1.2° apart
3
4 Moon apogee
5 Mercury stationary point: direct → retrograde
6 Moon new
7 Neptune conjunction
4 Vesta conjunction
8
9
10
11
12
13 Moon 1.9° north of Aldebaran
14 Jupiter west quadrature
Venus descending node
Moon first quarter
15 Mercury inferior conjunction
16 Moon ascending node
17 Moon 0.5° south of the open star cluster M44 (known as Praesepe or the Beehive Cluster)
18
19 Moon perigee
20 Earth equinox
21 Moon full
22
23 Mars equinox
24 Mercury, Neptune conjunction: 2.5° apart
25 136472 Makemake opposition
26
27 Moon, Jupiter 1.9° apart
Mercury stationary point: retrograde → direct
28 Moon last quarter
29 Moon, Saturn occultation of Saturn — visible from southern Africa
Moon descending node
30 Mercury descending node
31

The Solar System

The word planet is derived from the Greek word for 'wanderer'. Unlike the background stars, planets seem to move around the sky, keeping mostly to a narrow track called the ecliptic, the path of the Sun across the stars. Dwarf planets and small solar-system bodies, including comets, are not so constrained, often moving far above or below the ecliptic.

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Sun AquariusPisces

The solar south pole is most inclined toward the Earth early this month.

Mercury PiscesAquarius

Mercury is still visible after sunset to observers in northern temperate latitudes at the beginning of the month but it soon vanishes in the west as it approaches inferior conjunction on 15 March. Its reappearance in the morning sky is the best morning apparition this year for southern hemisphere viewers. Mercury temporarily enters into retrograde motion between 5 March and 27 March.

Venus SagittariusCapricornusAquarius

The morning star has another close encounter with the waning crescent Moon on 2 March when the two bodies are 1.2° apart. Venus rises as much as three hours ahead of the Sun when viewed from the southern hemisphere but this is a rather disappointing apparition for observers in northern temperate latitudes as Venus never rises very high in the east. However, greatest elongation west is long past and the bright planet is losing height above the eastern horizon little by little every morning.

Earth and Moon

Earth reaches the first of two equinoxes on 20 March. The word equinox means 'equal night' so that on this day, the (centre of the) Sun spends an equal amount of time above and below the horizon everywhere on the planet. The northern hemisphere greets the beginning of spring and the southern hemisphere welcomes the coming of autumn.

Mars AriesTaurus

Now a first-magnitude celestial object, Mars continues its eastward trek across the background stars, remaining in direct motion for the entire year. An equinox comes to the red planet on 23 March when the northern hemisphere welcomes spring and the southern hemisphere enters Martian autumn. By the end of the month, Mars is found in the vicinity of M45, the Pleiades open cluster and is visible in the evening sky.

Jupiter Ophiuchus

West quadrature, occurring this year on 14 March, is always an interesting time to train a telescope on Jupiter. The shadows of the planet and its Galilean satellites are cast noticeably to one side, leading to some interesting views as the moons' shadows pass across the disk of the primary. The waning gibbous Moon passes within 2° of the gas giant on 27 March.

Saturn Sagittarius

Saturn is repeatedly occulted by the Moon this year and this event happens twice in March. On the first day of the month, the waning crescent Moon begins to pass in the front of Saturn on 16:00 UT. Later, on 29 March, Saturn again disappears behind the face of the Moon starting at around 02:30 UT. Saturn is a morning sky object and is best viewed from the southern hemisphere.

Uranus Aries

Uranus is approaching conjunction next month and may already be too faint to see in the sunset skies of the southern hemisphere. However, observers in northern temperate latitudes may still be able to observe this sixth-magnitude planet before it sets mid-evening.

Neptune Aquarius

Neptune is at conjunction on 7 March and is lost to view in the glare of the Sun. Its conjunction with Mercury on 24 March is likely unobservable.

The Celestial Sphere

Constellations are patterns of stars in the sky. The International Astronomical Union recognises 88 different constellations. The brightest stars as seen from the Earth are easy to spot but do you know their proper names? With a set of binoculars you can look for fainter objects such as nebulae and galaxies and star clusters or some of the closest stars to the Sun.

Descriptions of the sky for observers in both the northern and southern hemispheres are available for the following times this month. Subtract one hour from your local time if summer (daylight savings) time is in effect.

Local Time Mid-month Northern Hemisphere Equator Southern Hemisphere
1730 hours (1830 hours summer time) 60° N 50° N 40° N 30° N 20° N 10° N 10° S 20° S 30° S 40° S
1930 hours (2030 hours summer time) 60° N 50° N 40° N 30° N 20° N 10° N 10° S 20° S 30° S 40° S
2130 hours (2230 hours summer time) 60° N 50° N 40° N 30° N 20° N 10° N 10° S 20° S 30° S 40° S
2330 hours (0030 hours summer time) 60° N 50° N 40° N 30° N 20° N 10° N 10° S 20° S 30° S 40° S
0130 hours (0230 hours summer time) 60° N 50° N 40° N 30° N 20° N 10° N 10° S 20° S 30° S 40° S
0330 hours (0430 hours summer time) 60° N 50° N 40° N 30° N 20° N 10° N 10° S 20° S 30° S 40° S
0530 hours (0630 hours summer time) 60° N 50° N 40° N 30° N 20° N 10° N 10° S 20° S 30° S 40° S