What's in the Sky — March 2019
Take your family on a journey to the stars from the comfort of your own backyard! Here are some of Orion's top picks for March stargazing:
Orion Continues to Shine
Constellation Orion is still well-placed in March skies for telescopic study. Check out bright nebula M42, also called the Orion Nebula, which is visible as the middle "star" of Orion's "sword" just south of the three recognizable stars of Orion's belt. While easily detected in astronomy binoculars, the wispy Orion Nebula will reveal more intricate details in a telescope. After March, our namesake constellation will get lower and lower in the west, making it harder to see as the Sun moves eastward in the sky.
Brilliant Binocular Clusters
Grab a pair of 50mm or larger astronomy binoculars in March for great views of the Pleiades star cluster (M45), the Beehive cluster (M44), and the must-see Double Cluster in Perseus. These sparkling sky gems are simply beautiful when observed with big binoculars, or use a wide-field eyepiece and short focal length telescope for a closer look.
By about 9-10pm 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 bright star Regulus to observe the Leo Triplet of galaxies M65, M66, and NGC 3628. In the northeastern sky, check out the famous Whirlpool Galaxy (M51). While the Whirlpool can be seen with modest 50mm binoculars, using a 10" or 12" telescope in a location with dark skies will display the distant galaxy's beautiful spiral arms. With an 8" or larger telescope and a dark sky this region of the sky harbors dozens of galaxies — try to find them all!
In the evening sky the Moon, Mars, and the Pleiades star cluster will be in close proximity.
Mid- to Late-March
A cone of faint illumination known as the zodiacal light is visible from northern latitudes in the west just after evening twilight for the last two weeks of the month.
On the night of March 16th and the morning of the 17th, the waxing gibbous Moon will have a close encounter with M44, the Beehive star cluster. They come within 0.5 degrees of each other just before they set below the horizon before dawn.
This month the full Moon rises on the same day as the vernal equinox — the start of spring! It is also the final ?supermoon? of the year, meaning it will be nearly at its closest distance from the Earth, and thus nearly at its largest apparent size.
In the morning hours the Moon and Jupiter make a pretty pair, separated by only about 4 degrees. Also, for the next seven nights, Mars will brush to within 4 degrees of the Pleiades star cluster (M45). Have a look at this cool conjunction with your binoculars!
Visible in the morning sky, Saturn will appear about 3 degrees from the waning crescent Moon.
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.