The night sky in March 2019

posted 28 Feb 2019, 04:37 by Pete Collins   [ updated 28 Feb 2019, 05:28 ]
by Anne Holt

Sunrise    1st:   06.57           31st :  06.45  (BST)
Sunset     1st:   17.46           31st:   19.41     "

Astronomical darkness    1st:  19.42 to 04.59    31st:   21.46 to 04.38

The Vernal (Spring) equinox, when the centre of the Sun's disc crosses the celestial equator, is on 20th at 20.58. However, with a day length of 12hr 09m 18secs, there isn't equal day and night, the nearest is the 18th, when the day is just 46 seconds over 12 hours.

New Moon:  6th at 16.03     Full Moon:  21st at 01.42
This is the third, and final Supermoon of 2019 - though this one isn't quite as super as the others.

Lunar apogee:   4th at 11.27  (406390km)
Lunar perigee: 19th at 19.48  (359380km)
Lunar perihelion  (closest point to the Sun) 3rd at 23.08

March's full Moon is known as the Worm Moon, because this is when temperatures were said to rise and worm trails were seen on the newly thawed ground. Other names are the Crow Moon, the Sap Moon, the Sugar Moon and the Chaste Moon. The old Anglo Saxon name is the Lenten Moon, for obvious reasons.
British Summer Time, when we are all forced to do everything an hour early, begins at 1am on 31st.  According to a poll, 80% of people would prefer to keep BST all year round; I expect that most astronomers were in the other 20%.

Highlights

What highlights? Not many this month, unfortunately.  Maybe the fabled March winds will blow the clouds away and give us lots of lovely clear nights while we still have a reasonable amount of proper darkness.  Astronomical darkness is getting less - 9 hours 17mins on 1st, down to 6hs 52 mins on 31st. We have another so called Supermoon, but this is the least spectacular of the three this year, being neither eclipsed like January's nor an extra big super Supermoon like last month's.  Only Jupiter, among the naked eye planets, is bright and quite prominent, though it is very low in the morning sky. Venus, while still very bright, is now low and getting lower. In the last few days of the month Mars passes to the south of the Pleiades and, as already mentioned, from 31st we have to get up an hour earlier every day.And there are some high, bright early evening passes of the International Space Station during the last week of the month.

Constellations

We are now losing the winter highlights of Orion, Sirius and Taurus soon after midnight, though they are still prominent in the south in the early part of the night.
Auriga, with the bright yellowish-white star Capella, is now overhead soon after sunset, with Gemini and Leo also prominent. The not very obvious zodiac constellation, Cancer, is now well placed. The Plough is overhead by midnight, the handle pointing to the orange hued Arcturus, the brightest star north of the celestial equator, in the constellation of Bootes. By the end of March the Summer Triangle will be above the horizon soon after 2am - or by 1am if you've forgotten to put the clock forward.

Planets

Mercury:  in Pisces, mag -0.2
Visible low in the morning sky for the first few days of the month.  On 1st it is 10 degrees above the western horizon at 18.15, setting around an hour later. During the first half of March its apparent separation from the Sun decreases rapidly, as does the magnitude. By 15th it is down to mag 5.6, on this day it reaches inferior conjunction, meaning it is between the Earth and the Sun. Because of the inclination of Mercury's orbit, this rarely results in a transit, the planet usually passes above or below the Sun's disc. It then becomes a morning object but will be too close to the Sun to be seen. On 22nd it is close to Neptune but both are barely visible, being separated from the Sun by only 14 degrees. It moves into Aquarius on 25th, when it has brightened to mag 2.2 but is still 5 degrees below the horizon at dawn. By 31st it rises only 30 minutes before the Sun but still doesn't get above the horizon before the sky brightens.

Venus:  in Sagittarius, mag minus 4.1
Still very bright but now much lower in the morning sky.  On 1st it rises at 05.27 but is only 6 degrees above the horizon as the sky brightens.  It gets even lower during the course of the month. It moves into Capricorn on 2nd, and on that day is just over 1 degree north of the 16% Moon. However both are very low in the brightening sky.  On 31st it rises a few minutes before 6am but only gets to 2 degrees by dawn.

Mars:  in Aries, mag 1.2
On 1st it should be visible, 41 degrees above the SW horizon, at around 18.30, setting at 23.31. On 11th the Moon passes 6 degrees south of the planet at 19.00.  On 24th, when it has faded to mag 1.4, it will be at 35 degrees in the west as the sky darkens.  Between 28th March and 3rd April it passes south of the Pleiades, closest on 30th when it is 3 degrees from the cluster. On 31st it is 32 degrees above the western horizon at 20.30 setting at 00.32 - which is still almost 23.30 if you forgot to change your clock.

Jupiter:  in Ophiuchus, mag -2.1
The gas giant's position is improving but unfortunately it remains quite low in the sky - and won't get much better for about 3 years.  On 1st it rises at 03.09, reaching 13 degrees in the south by dawn.  The Moon passes 2 degrees north of the planet at 3am on 27th, but quite low, still only 13 degrees above the horizon.   On 31st it rises at 02.22 (BST - just) reaching 13 degrees in the south soon after 06.00.

Saturn:  in Sagittarius, mag 0.6
Also very low in the morning sky, on 1st it rises at 04.56 but only reaches 6 degrees above the horizon by dawn. On this day the Moon passes quite close to the planet just before the sky begins to brighten.  On the morning of 29th the pair are even closer, separated by just under 1 degree as astro darkness ends at 5am, at an altitude of about 10 degrees. A clear, low horizon will be needed to see the pair on both of these days.  On 31st the planet rises at 04.05 (which is really only 03.05) and reaches 10 degrees by dawn.

Uranus:  in Aries, mag 5.9
Visible, through binoculars or a small scope, in the early evening sky in the first part of March. On 1st it will be 29 degrees above the SW horizon around 19.00, as the sky darkens, setting at 22.27. On 10th the Moon passes 7 degrees east of the planet.  It isn't visible in the later part of the month, on 31st it appears only 21 degrees from the Sun and sets before the sky is completely dark.

Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 8.0
Not visible this month as it will be too close to the Sun. On 1st it sets only 20 minutes after sunset and will be just 5 degrees from the Sun.  Reaches solar conjunction on 7th, when it is on the opposite side of the Sun from the Earth. After this date it is a morning object but too close to the Sun to be seen. On 31st it rises only half an hour before the Sun and is still well below the horizon when the sky brightens.

Dwarf Planets

Pluto: in Sagittarius, mag 14.7
Doesn't get high enough in the sky to be a good photographic target this month.  In fact it appears to move so slowly across the sky, taking 248 years to complete one orbit, that it won't reach a reasonable altitude for about 50 years.

Ceres: in Ophiuchus, mag 8.6
An early evening object, in the same region of the sky as Jupiter.  On 1st it rises at 01.34 and reaches 20 degrees by dawn. On 31st it is slightly brighter at mag 8.2, and rises at 00.55 and reaches 19 degrees before the sky brightens.

Eris:  in Cetus, mag 18.8
Not a good photographic target, on 1st it is only 17 degrees above the horizon at dusk and by month end sets only half an hour after the Sun, with an apparent separation of only 17 degrees.

The other two dwarf planets are much higher in the sky and are a much better bet for experienced astrophotographers.

Haumea:  in Bootes, mag 17.3
Rises at 20.11 on 1st and reaches 21 degrees in the east shortly before 23.00. It culminates, 52 degrees above the southern horizon at 03.53. On 31st it does the same  almost exactly 2 hours earlier - though, because of the dreaded BST, the times are only one hour earlier.

Makemake: in Coma Berenices, mag 17.1
Best placed of all the dwarf planets.  On 1st it rises at 18.03, only about 20 minutes after sunset, but will reach 21 degrees above the eastern horizon by 21.00.  It culminates at 02.41, when it will be at 60 degrees in the South. It reaches opposition, when it is directly opposite the Sun in the sky, on 25th at 19.59, and culminates around midnight. By 31st it rises well before Sunset, reaches a reasonable altitude by 21.00 and culminates at 00.41, still at 60 degrees.

Meteor Showers

Another bad month for meteor spotters in the northern hemisphere.  For those south of the equator we have the Gamma Normids, active for most of March with a peak on 15th/16th of ZHR 6.  The best that we in the north can hope for are a few minor showers with radiants in Virgo.  Because these radiants are so close it is almost impossible to distinguish between the showers, so the IMO now class them all as part of the antihelion source.  The ZHR throughout March is 3 or fewer.

Comets

Again, not much this month unless something new and exciting appears.

46P/Wirtanen is still around, still circumpolar, still fading.  Starts the month in Ursa Major, probably around mag 11.5.  It moves into Leo Minor on 15th when it will probably be at mag 12.8. It continues to fade, ending the month at mag 14.8.

C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto) was only discovered in Dec 2018.  It is now past its best but is brighter than Wirtanen.  It starts the month in Auriga at mag 7.4.  On 1st it culminates at 18.57 before the sky is completely dark but should be visible, in good binoculars or a small scope, not long after that, at 71 degrees above the southern horizon.  It is also fading quite quickly and is predicted to be down to mag 9.4 when it moves into Perseus on 16th.  It should still be visible in the early part of the night - 58 degrees in the SW at 19.30.  By 31st it will have faded to mag 11.2 and be at 42 degrees in the west at 21.05, shortly before the beginning of astro darkness, and high enough for possible photography until just before midnight, 

For more details and exact positions of any solar system objects, see
for information on major planets
and for comets
www.nakedeyecomets.co.uk
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