With bright planets to observe and Galaxy Season arriving, there are plenty of celestial sights to enjoy in the third month of 2015. Here are a few of Orion's top picks for March stargazing:
- Mars gets bigger and brighter - In mid to late March, the red planet Mars will get brighter and bigger in the late night sky. While almost any size telescope will show you Mars, an 80mm refractor or 6" or larger reflector are really needed to see any detail on the planet. The Orion Mars Filter will help bring out the elusive darker markings on Mars.
- Get ready for Saturn - In the late evening and early morning skies of March, ringed planet Saturn rises before midnight in the constellation of Libra, making a good telescopic target. Just about any telescope can show the gas giant planet's amazing ring system, and larger aperture scopes will reveal more details of Saturn, such as the Cassini Division feature within its ring system.
- Hunt the hunter - March is still a good month to see the constellation of 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 50mm or larger binoculars, and using a telescope will reveal more intricate details.
- Brilliant binocular clusters - Grab a pair of 50mm or larger 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 20th 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.
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.