Get outside for stargazing fun in March! The entire astronomy community is hoping Comet PANSTARRS will put on a celestial show this month, which it will if it survives its close-approach to the Sun. However, even if PANSTARRS doesn't live up to expectations, March evenings still offer plenty of amazing celestial sights to enjoy! Here are a few of Orion's top picks for March stargazing:
First Comet of 2013 - Comet PANSTARRS - Starting about mid-March, this comet will swing around the Sun and could provide wonderful views if it survives the close-approach. During its race away from the Sun, assuming it stays intact, Comet PANSTARRS will initially be visible with unaided eyes, but you'll need binoculars or a telescope as it gets father away from the Sun.
Triple Conjunction - Get outside after dark on the evenings of March 15th through the 18th to see a wonderful conjunction in the night sky as the crescent Moon sails past the Pleiades star cluster (M45) and bright planet Jupiter.
Hunt the Hunter - March is prime time to see the constellation of Orion and the Orion Nebula. After March, our namesake constellation will get lower and lower in the west, making it harder to see. The wispy Orion Nebula can easily be seen with 50mm or larger binoculars, and using a telescope will reveal more detail.
Brilliant Binocular Clusters - Use 50mm or larger binoculars in March for great views of the Pleiades cluster (M45), the Beehive cluster (M44), and the amazing Double Cluster in Perseus. These sparkling sky gems are simply beautiful when observed with big binoculars.
Last Call for M31 - Don't miss the last good views of the season of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) low in the northwestern skies of March. It's the brightest spiral galaxy in the sky (except for the Milky Way).
Gas Giant - Big and bright Jupiter continues to be a splendid sight in March skies. Still fairly high in the sky, Jupiter and its four brightest moons provide an excellent planetary target for observation and imaging. Don't forget to send us your astrophotos of Jupiter - we'd love to see them!
Galaxies Galore - By about 9pm throughout March, Ursa Major, Leo, and the western edge of the Virgo galaxy cluster are high enough in the eastern sky to yield great views of some of our favorite galaxies. Check out the bright pair of M81 and M82 just above the Big Dipper asterism. Look east of Regulus to observe M65 and M66, which can be seen in a 60mm refractor or larger telescope. In the northeastern sky of March, check out the famous Whirlpool Galaxy (M1). While the Whirlpool can be seen with 50mm binoculars, using a 10" or 12" telescope in a dark sky site will let you start to see its beautiful spiral arms.
Challenge Object, NGC 2403 - Use a telescope to look for the wonderful face-on spiral galaxy NGC 2403 in the constellation Camelopardalis. If you're using a fairly large telescope, you may even be able to catch the nearby faint satellite galaxies Holmberg II and NGC 2366.
All objects described above can easily be seen with the suggested equipment from a dark sky site, a viewing location some distance away from city lights where light pollution and when bright moonlight does not overpower the stars. All objects have been verified by actual observations by Orion Telescopes & Binoculars Staff at Fremont Peak State Park, and/or Deep Sky Ranch, 60 miles and 90 miles respectively from San Jose International Airport, San Jose, CA.