WHAT'S UP THIS MONTH - MARCH 2019

(Link to What's Up April 2019)

(Link to What's Up February 2019)

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THESE PAGES ARE INTENDED TO HELP YOU FIND YOUR WAY AROUND THE SKY

The chart above shows the night sky as it appears on 15th March at 21:00 (9 o'clock) in the evening Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). As the Earth orbits the Sun and we look out into space each night the stars will appear to have moved across the sky by a small amount. Every month Earth moves one twelfth of its circuit around the Sun, this amounts to 30 degrees each month. There are about 30 days in each month so each night the stars appear to move about 1 degree. The sky will therefore appear the same as shown on the chart above at 10 o'clock GMT at the beginning of the month and at 8 o'clock GMT at the end of the month. The stars also appear to move 15º (360º divided by 24) each hour from east to west, due to the Earth rotating once every 24 hours.

The centre of the chart will be the position in the sky directly overhead, called the Zenith. First we need to find some familiar objects so we can get our bearings. The Pole Star Polaris can be easily found by first finding the familiar shape of the Great Bear ‘Ursa Major' that is also sometimes called the Plough or even the Big Dipper by the Americans. Ursa Major is visible throughout the year from Britain and is always easy to find. This month it is almost overhead. Look for the distinctive saucepan shape, four stars forming the bowl and three stars forming the handle. Follow an imaginary line, up from the two stars in the bowl furthest from the handle. These will point the way to Polaris which will be to the north of overhead at about 50º above the northern horizon. Polaris is the only moderately bright star in a fairly empty patch of sky. When you have found Polaris turn completely around and you will be facing south. To use this chart, position yourself looking south and hold the chart above your eyes.

Planets observable: Mars and Uranus. Venus, Saturn and Jupiter are observable in the early morning.

EXPLORING THE NIGHT SKY THIS MONTH

The Southern Night Sky during March 2019 at 21:00 GMT

The chart above shows the night sky looking south at about 21:00 GMT on 15th March. West is to the right and east to the left. The point in the sky directly overhead is known as the Zenith and is shown at the centre of the chart. The curved brown line across the sky at the bottom is the Ecliptic or Zodiac. This is the imaginary line along which the Sun, Moon and planets appear to move across the sky. The brightest stars often appear to form a group or recognisable pattern; we call these ‘Constellations'.

Constellations through which the ecliptic passes this month are Aries (the Ram), Taurus (the Bull), Gemini (the Twins), Cancer (the Crab), Leo (the Lion) and Virgo (the Virgin) rising over the eastern horizon.

The Milky Way (our Galaxy) looks like a faint ‘misty' cloud that flows up from the south horizon through Orion and Gemini . It continues up through Perseus and Cassiopea and on to Cygnus which is on the northern horizon.

Mars is still in a reasonable position, for observing during the early evening but is looking small now, in the constellation of Aries. Uranus is close to the southern horizon in the early evening but will need a good pair of binoculars or better still a telescope to find it.

Along the Ecliptic is the constellation of Taurus (the Bull). The stick figure representation of Taurus resembles a squashed ‘X' with the bright orange coloured Red Giant star Aldebaran at its centre. This is a lovely star to look at especially using binoculars or a telescope and does look noticeably orange in colour.

Following the North western (upper right) arm of the ‘X' shape of Taurus guides us to the beautiful Pleiades ‘naked eye' Open Star Cluster. This bright Open Cluster with its seven brightest stars is known as Messier 45 (M45), the Pleiades or ‘Seven Sisters'.

The constellation of Taurus

Messier 45 (M45) the Seven Sisters

 

Attached to the upper left star of Taurus, called ‘Elnath', is the constellation of Auriga the Charioteer. Auriga appears like an odd shaped pentagon with the beautiful bright white star Capella on the opposite side to Elnath.

To the east of Taurus along the Ecliptic is the constellation of Gemini (the Twins). The twin stars Castor and Pollux are easy to identify. Further to the east of Gemini is the constellation of Cancer with a lovely cluster M44.

The constellation of Cancer

Messier 44 (M44) the Beehive Cluster

Below Gemini is Orion the second most recognisable constellation. Orion is depicted as a hunter with two hunting dogs called Sirius and Procyon. The two stars that represent Orion's hunting dogs are also called Sirius and Procyon. Sirius and Procyon are the brightest stars in the constellations of Canis Major (the great dog) and Canis Minor (the little dog). Sirius is the closest and brightest star visible from the UK.

Further to the east (left) of Gemini is the constellation of Leo (the Lion). Leo is quite distinctive with the ‘Sickle' shaped pattern of stars looking much like the head of the lion that Leo represents. In fact the traditional ‘stick figure' shape of Leo as shown on the chart above does look rather like the lion's body or the Sphinx in Egypt. The ‘Sickle' shape is also described as looking like a backwards question mark (?).

CONSTELLATIONS OF THE MONTH – LEO AND CANCER

 

The constellations of Leo (the Lion) and Cancer (the Crab) on 18th March 2019

Cancer is a faint and rather indistinct constellation but it is well worth searching out. It does have a rather nice Open Cluster called Messier 44 (M44) Praesepe or ‘the Beehive Cluster' located at its centre. The cluster is large and dispersed and demonstrates the later stages of the formation process of Open Clusters. It contains stars at all stages of their ‘life cycle'.

Observationally, the Beehive is easily visible using binoculars as a lovely cluster of stars from February to May. At 1.5° across, the cluster nicely fits within the field of view of binoculars or low-powered telescopes.

Messier 44 (M44) Praesepe or the ‘Beehive Cluster'

Leo (the Lion) is quite distinctive with the ‘Sickle' shaped pattern of stars looking much like the head of the lion that Leo represents. In fact the traditional ‘stick figure' shape of Leo as shown on the chart above does look rather like the lion's body or the Sphinx in Egypt. The ‘Sickle' is also described as looking like a backwards question mark (?).

Leo does look unexpectedly large in the sky and may be a little difficult to find for the first time but once found it is found it is easy to recognise and find again.

Regulus is a large blue / white star approximately 160 times brighter than our Sun and lying at a distance of 69 light years. When viewed through a small telescope a smaller companion star can be seen close by making Regulus a double star. Regulus sits virtually on the ecliptic line (the brown line shown on the chart above) . This is the imaginary line along which the Sun, Moon and planets appear to move across the sky. Leo is therefore one of the twelve constellations of the Zodiac.

Every eighteen years Regulus is ‘occulted' by the Moon once a month for a period of eighteen months. An occultation occurs when the Moon passes in front of the star so the star disappears behind the Moon. The last series of occultations occurred around 2007 and the next series will be around 2024. The Moon does however pass close to Regulus every month. It will pass close but above Regulus on the 18th March this year as shown in the chart above.

The star Algieba, located above Regulus on the ‘Sickle', is a very nice double star about 75 light years from us. The two stars orbit each other around their common centre of gravity every 620 years and have magnitudes of +2.2 and +3.5 which give them a combined magnitude of +1.98.

Spring time is regarded as the season of galaxies and Leo is on the edge of a large group of galaxies called the ‘Virgo Cluster'. The main group is located in the neighbouring constellations of Virgo and Coma Berenices to the east (left) of Leo. However Leo does have four lovely bright galaxies of its own, these are known as: M65, M66, M95 and M96. They are marked in yellow on the chart above just below the ‘lion'. The galaxies in and around Leo do require a medium sized telescope and a dark unpolluted sky to see well.

Galaxies M65 and M66 in Leo

Galaxies M96 and M95 in Leo

Our Galaxy, that we call the Milky Way, is a member of the group of galaxies that make up the Virgo Cluster. Our galaxy is also a member of a smaller group of galaxies called ‘the Local Group'. The local group has about 30 members dominated by our Milky Way and M31 the Great Andromeda Galaxy both of which are Giant Spiral Galaxies containing 200 billion and 400 billion stars respectively. The rest of the galaxies in our Local Group are small and dwarf galaxies. So our Local Group is one of many other groups that make up the large Virgo Group of Galaxies.

THE SOLAR SYSTEM MARCH 2019

The positions of the planets at 08:00 in the middle of the month (the sky has been darkened to show the planets)

MERCURY is visible at the very beginning of March soon after sunset low above the western horizon.

VENUS rises over the eastern horizon at about 05:00 and will be very bright in the south east even at 06:30 as the sky brightens at dawn. Venus is very bright at magnitude -4.0 and is appearing to move back towards the Sun. It will move into Superior Conjunction (pass behind the Sun) on 14th August. See the Jupiter and Saturn chart below.

MARS is still well placed in the early evening. It is low over the southern western horizon in turbulent and smoggy air. The Red Planet is moving away from Earth and looking smaller at 5.0 arc-seconds in diameter but still quite bright at magnitude +1.3.

JUPITER is moving further away from the Sun before sunrise. It now rises over the eastern horizon around 02:00 nearly 4 hours before sunrise. It is well worth getting up early to see. See the chart below.

Mercury, Neptune, Venus, Saturn and Jupiter at 06:00

SATURN is moving away from the Sun before sunrise and will be to the east of Venus. It is now observable before the sky brightens and will be in the south until the Sun rises in the east. A telescope will show the ring system reasonably well. See the chart above.

URANUS will be in an observable position in the south west in the early evening but will set over the south western horizon at 21:20. A telescope at a magnification of 100x will be required show it.

NEPTUNE is now close to the Sun and not visible.

THE SUN

The Sun rises at 07:30 at the beginning of the month and at 06:50 by the end of the month. It will be setting at 16:50 at the beginning and 17:30 at the end of the month. There has been no activity for some months.

THE MOON PHASES IN MARCH

The ‘New Moon' will always be seen in the west after the Sun has set over the western horizon. At this phase the Moon will be emerging from conjunction with the Sun (passing between Earth and the Sun). The Moon orbits Earth once a month (Moonth). The cardinal phases listed below occur every seven days. Full Moon will always appear in the East as the Sun is setting in the West.

New Moon will be on the 6th March

First Quarter will be on 14th March

Full Moon will be on 21st March

Last Quarter will be on 28th March

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