With Jupiter reaching opposition in early March, along with plenty of galaxies and clusters to explore, there are many celestial sights to enjoy in the third month of 2016.
Over a hundred years after first predicted by Einstein, gravitational waves were recently detected by LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) scientists after two distant black holes merged together. Fascinating discoveries like these ripples in space and time serve as welcome reminders that there's always more to explore, more theories to prove or disprove, and it all starts with the desire to look up and wonder.
This March, take yourself and your family on a journey to the stars from the comfort of your own backyard - no interferometer observatory required! Here are some of Orion's top picks for March stargazing:
- Best Jupiter Views of the Year - Get ready for great views of giant Jupiter this month as the largest planet in our solar system reaches opposition - the point in its orbit when it appears opposite the Sun from Earth - on March 8th. This will be the best night of the year to view Jupiter and its four brightest moons Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. The New Moon of March 9th means skies will be nice and dark during the evenings before and after opposition for great viewing conditions. Use an Orion Jupiter Filter to enhance contrast of Jupiter's equatorial cloud belts and the famous Great Red Spot.
- Double Shadow Transits on Jupiter - There are three occasions this month when two of Jupiter's moons cast their shadows simultaneously on the planet's disc, with good visibility from most of North America. These double shadow transits will occur on the night of March 14th from 7:22 pm to 9:34pm PDT, March 21st from 9:23pm to 11:31pm PDT, and the morning of March 29th from 12:00am to 1:25am PDT. Crank up the magnifying power on your scope with a short focal length eyepiece and enjoy the view as the moon shadows cross Jupiter!
- Hunt the Hunter - March is still a good month to see the constellation Orion and the bright nebula M42, also called the Orion Nebula. 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. The wispy Orion Nebula can easily be seen with astronomy binoculars, and using a telescope will reveal more intricate details.
- Brilliant Binocular Clusters - Grab a pair of 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.
- 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. Take advantage of the New Moon on March 9th and set sail for these island universes with a big telescope. Check out the bright pair of M81 and M82 just above the Big Dipper asterism. Look east of bright star Regulus in Leo to observe M65 and M66. 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 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!
- Challenge Object, NGC 2419, "The Intergalactic Wanderer" - In the constellation Lynx, from a location with dark skies using a good 4.5" or larger telescope, try to find globular cluster NGC 2419. To make this glittering star cluster easier to locate, we suggest a 6 or 8" telescope, but a larger telescope is needed to resolve the cluster into individual stars. NGC 2419 is a distant globular cluster, once thought to lie outside our Milky Way galaxy.
Talented astrophotographer Pat Meloy captured this detailed astrophoto of M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy. Pat skillfully combined and processed 30 separate 10-minute exposures to reveal the Whirlpool's intricate details in this great astrophoto. Visit the Image Gallery on our website to see Pat's astrophotos and images captured by other Orion customers!
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.