Earth--Day and Night Regions

Earth--Day and Night Regions

Planetary Positions

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Night Sky This Month (March 2012)

The Night Sky This Month (March 2012)

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Key Stars

The seven stars that make up the familiar shape of the Plough, or Big
Dipper, are well placed for viewing in March. On the eastern horizon,
Spica (Alpha Virginis) and Arcturus (Alpha Bootis) are rising,
heralding the approach of springtime. In the west, Taurus and Orion
are sinking towards the horizon by 10 P.M. local time. Castor (Alpha
Geminorum) and Pollux (Beta Geminorum), the twin stars of Gemini, are
still well displayed, and Capella (Alpha Aurigae) shines high in the

The Planets


Mercury reaches greatest eastern elongation on March 5, when it lies
18 degrees east of the Sun and is visible about 30 minutes after
sundown, relatively near to the western horizon and far lower right
of bright Venus. The innermost planet disappears in the evening
twilight around mid-month, reaching inferior conjunction with the Sun
on the 21st.


Shining brilliantly in the western sky soon after sunset, Venus will
immediately grab your attention. On March 1, the planet glows at
magnitude -4.2 and does not set until around 9:30 P.M. local time. By
month's end, Venus remains visible until 11:30 P.M. local daylight
time and also shines brighter, at magnitude -4.4.


March brings the Red Planet closer to Earth than at any time since
the winter of 2010. Mars reaches peak visibility March 3 when it lies
opposite the Sun in our sky and remains visible all night. It pokes
above the horizon during evening twilight, among the background stars
of Leo the Lion, and is high up in fine view in the east by 9 P.M.
local daylight time.


Jupiter glares in the west during evening, among the background stars
of Aries, an inconspicuous constellation of the zodiac located between
Pisces to the west and Taurus to the east. You will not need any help
spotting Jupiter; at magnitude -2.1 it is the second-brightest point
of light in the sky and stands out on any clear evening.


This month, Saturn rises around 9 P.M. local daylight time and is 30
degrees high in the southeast soon after midnight. The ringed planet
resides among the background stars of Virgo the Maiden and remains
within about 5 degrees of the blue-white star Spica all month.
Through a telescope, Saturn sports an angular size of 18", while the
rings span 41" and tilt 15 degrees to our line of sight.


Uranus is lost in the evening twilight, setting soon after the Sun.
It will return to view in mid-May, low in the morning sky.


Neptune is too deep in the solar glare and cannot be observed until
early April, when it will reappear in the morning sky.


Pluto lies in northwestern Sagittarius and stands 30 degrees high in
the southeast shortly before dawn. The dwarf planet glows dimly at
magnitude +14, which means you will need an 8-inch telescope to have
a decent chance of spotting this glimmer of light.

Bright Asteroids

5 Astraea

Asteroid 5 Astraea lies at the border between Leo and Virgo and
shines around 9th magnitude. As such, it is outside the range of most
binoculars, but locating it with a 4-inch telescope from your backyard
is straightforward.

6 Hebe

Magnitude +9.5 Hebe can be found east of Leo's Sickle asterism during
March. It shares the eastern evening sky with Mars and Regulus (Alpha

Bright Comets

C/2009 P1 Garradd

In early March, comet Garradd can be found in the constellation Ursa
Minor, but by mid-month it passes the border into neighboring Ursa
Major. According to recent reports, it should glow at 7th magnitude.
For observers located at mid-northern latitudes comet Garradd is
circumpolar, meaning that it never sets and can be viewed all night.

C/2012 C2 Bruenjes

Comet Bruenjes is a new amateur discovery of February 12, by Fred
Bruenjes of Warrensburg, Missouri, USA. It currently glows at 10th
magnitude and can be spotted with a 6-inch scope in the constellation
Pisces the Fishes. The comet keeps observable until mid-March,
although it will be getting lower in the evening sky.

Meteor Showers

The Virginids

The Virginids are a vast complex of a dozen or so radiants that
become active in late January and persist until mid-April, without
reaching a definite peak. Meteors from this stream appear at a slow
speed (about 20 miles per second) from a large radiant that measures
15 degrees by 10 degrees in size. Throughout March, the radiant is
located in the northwestern part of Virgo and rises around 9 P.M.
local daylight time.

Sky Events

March 3 - Mars is at opposition, exactly opposite the Sun in the sky
as seen from the Earth.

March 5 - Mercury is at greatest eastern elongation, 18.2 degrees
east of the Sun in the evening sky.

March 8 - Full Moon at 4:39 A.M. EST.

March 10 - The Moon is at perigee, the point in its orbit when it is
nearest to Earth. The Moon is 1.5 degrees south of Spica (Alpha
Virginis) at 3:20 P.M. EST.

March 11 - Daylight Saving Time begins in the United States at 2 A.M.
local time.

March 13 - Venus is 3 degrees north of Jupiter at 4:53 P.M. EDT.

March 14 - Last Quarter Moon at 8:25 P.M. EDT.

March 20 - The Vernal equinox occurs at 1:14 A.M. EDT, when the Sun
crosses the celestial equator heading north. This is the beginning of
spring in the Northern Hemisphere, and fall in the Southern

March 21 - Mercury is in inferior conjunction with the Sun.

March 22 - New Moon at 9:37 A.M. EDT.

March 24 - Uranus is in conjunction with the Sun.

March 25 - The Moon is 3.4 degrees north of Jupiter at 6:57 P.M. EDT.

March 26 - The Moon is at apogee, the point in its orbit when it is
farthest from Earth. The Moon is 2.1 degrees south of Venus at 1:21

March 27 - Venus is at greatest eastern elongation, 46 degrees east
of the Sun in the evening sky. The Moon is 3.9 degrees south of the
Pleiades at 3:56 A.M. EDT.

March 30 - First Quarter Moon at 2:41 P.M. EDT.

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