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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

What's In The Skies This Month - March




When it comes to astronomical happenings, the month of March is a bit dry this year. There are no major celestial events slated to occur in the next 31 days, with the exception of a very remote solar eclipse. However, some of the events from last month can still be enjoyed.

Moon Phases for March


March 5th is the date of the full moon for the month of March. This full moon is known as the Full Worm Moon because warmer March temperatures cause the ground to start thawing and the earthworms re-emerge. It is also known as the Full Sap moon because it occurs during the time of year when maple trees are tapped to collect sap.





The 20th of March is a new moon. This is an excellent time to view deep sky objects with telescopes and binoculars since there will be no moonlight to interfere with observations.

Planets in March





Jupiter came to opposition in the first week of February, but the giant planet is still putting on a great show right now. It is still quite large in the sky and will show impressive detail even in modestly sized telescopes. Look for features such as the north and south equatorial belts (the two major dark colored bands) and the Great Red Spot. Jupiter's ever changing moons put on a different show every night.

Venus is another planet to watch closely for changes. As the month rolls on the planet will appear to get brighter and brighter in the western sky. Through a telescope, Venus will look very much like a little version of a waxing gibbous moon. In actuality, it is waning from our point of view. Over the next few months, it will slowly turn into a large, brilliant crescent.



Phases of Venus (courtesy of Dept of Astronomy University of Virginia)


Saturn is starting to make a come back, but it doesn't even begin to rise out of the east until the early morning hours. While you might be able to catch an early glimpse of the ringed wonder if you stay up late enough, the best views wont come until May when it reaches opposition.

Special Events


The only special celestial event occurring this month is a total solar eclipse on March 20th. Unfortunately, this one will only be visible from the northern Atlantic and Arctic Oceans...far too remote for many to witness. But not to worry, there is an eclipse of another kind occurring next month.

Notes


For those in the USA, March 8th is the beginning of Daylight Savings Time. The clocks will jump one hour ahead at 2:00am.

March 20th is the vernal equinox for the northern hemisphere and the first day of spring! For those south of the equator, this is your autumnal equinox, or first day of fall.

NASA's Dawn space probe will reach the dwarf planet Ceres on March 6th. Dawn was launched to study the two most massive bodies in the asteroid belt, Vesta and Ceres. It completed it's survey mission of asteroid Vesta in 2012, and is now approaching Ceres and will enter orbit on the 6th. The probe is expected to begin high resolution imaging of the surface of Ceres around this time.

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