The two gas giants are the stand-out planets this month. Jupiter is bright in the evening sky, while Saturn lights up the morning. Low to the east in the morning twilight Venus disappears as Mercury returns to the sky.
Comet Lemmon is low in the south-west at sunset or low in the south-east at sunrise. From a dark location, it may be faintly visible to the naked eye. It is certainly interesting through binoculars or small telescopes. The comet has a greenish glow, as the Sun is making the comet’s carbon gas (or C2 gas) fluoresce. The comet may brighten even a little more as it moves towards perihelion (closest to the Sun) on the 24th.
Comet PANSTARRS can also be found towards the south at sunset during the first week of the month. Although Comet PANSTARRS is a little brighter than Comet Lemmon, the twilight sky makes it also hard to see. Comet PANSTARRS reaches perihelion on the 10th, when it will move into the northern hemisphere and could display the classic comet double tail; one of dust and gas, and the other made of charged particles that glow blue. Fantastic time-lapse of the comets can be found at: The World At Night
Can you see the stars? GLOBE at Night
If you're out spotting comets, why not join thousands of people world-wide hunting for stars. GLOBE at Night is an annual event to observe the night sky and learn more about light pollution around the world. This year there are four campaigns which run until April. Between 3rd and 12th March search for Orion in our north-west sky or the Southern Cross.
Participants are asked to match what they can see to one of eight star charts. The results are plotted on a world map to see how our view of the dark night sky varies by location and over time. To participate visit GLOBE at Night.
Sunrise & Sunset Times
The Moon will be at apogee (furthest from Earth) on Tuesday 19th, at a distance of 404,261km.
The Moon will be at perigee (closest to Earth) on Sunday 31st, at a distance of 367,493km.
Let The Moon Be Your Guide
The Moon can be used as a pointer to find other objects in the sky:
- On the morning of the 1st the waning gibbous Moon sits below Spica (Virgo).
- Before sunrise on the 3rd the Moon is above Saturn.
- The Last Quarter Moon can be found near Antares (Scorpius) on the morning of the 5th.
- After sunset on the 17th, the waxing crescent Moon is near the star cluster Pleiades.
- The following night, on the 18th, the Moon is between Jupiter and Aldebaran (Taurus).
- On the 21st the waxing gibbous Moon sits within the triangle of Betelgeuse (Orion), Procyon (Canis Minor) and Pollux (Gemini).
- On the 24th the Moon is near Regulus (Taurus).
- On the 28th, the waning gibbous Moon rises to the left of Spica (Virgo).
- While, on the 29th and 30th, the Moon rises with Saturn nearby.
Mercury reappears in the early morning twilight this month. On the 8th, it is directly to the left of Venus, although hard to spot with the glow of the rising Sun. By the end of the month it is high in the east before sunrise.
Venus can be found low in the east before sunrise. It is to the right of Mercury on the morning of the 8th. By the middle of the month it has moved too close to the Sun to be seen.
Earth experiences the Autumn Equinox on Wednesday 20th. At 10:02pm the Sun crosses the celestial equator heading north. Day and night are of equal length a few days later, on Sunday 24th. This is because our atmosphere bends light from the Sun, and so, we see the Sun before it physically rises and continue to see it for a short while after it has set. This phenomenon is called atmospheric refraction.
Mars is too close to the Sun to be seen this month.
Jupiter is still looking magnificent in the evening sky as it heads towards the north-west. The star cluster Pleiades can be found just below, while the triangle of Taurus, including the red star Aldebaran sits above. On the night of the 18th the Moon comes between Jupiter and Aldebaran.
Saturn is slowly drifting into the evening sky. It is still best seen high in the north-west before sunrise, with Spica below and to the left. On the 3rd the Moon sits above Saturn. But by the end of the month it is rising in the east around 9pm, and on the 29th and 30th can be found with the Moon nearby.
There are two small meteor showers that occur near the South Celestial Pole this month. The gamma Normids is due to peak around the 15th. This shower is centred on the yellow giant star, gamma Normae in the constellation of Norma, the level. While the delta Pavonids, which peak in early April, will start to appear from the 21st. This shower occurs in Pavo, the peacock. The best time for viewing meteor showers is generally between midnight and dawn.
Stars & Constellations
The constellations of Orion and Taurus can be found in the northwest after sunset. Taurus contains the beautiful Pleiades or Seven Sisters, a small cluster including many young blue giant stars.
The brightest star in our night sky, Sirius (Canis Major) is nearly overhead at sunset. Its partner, Procyon in Canis Minor, is high in the north. The twin stars of Gemini, Castor and Pollux, lie low in the north-west while Regulus, in Leo, is low to the north-east.
The constellation of Virgo rises in the east after sunset. Sitting above Virgo is the kite-shaped group of stars that form Corvus (the crow).
Crux (or the Southern Cross) is now beginning to climb up to its autumn position - lying on its side in the south-east.
International Space Station
The ISS orbits the Earth every 90 minutes at an average distance of 400 km. The ISS appears as a bright star that steadily moves across the sky. It can often be seen from Melbourne, for example at:
, Friday 8th March.
The Station will first appear in the north-west and travel right past Jupiter and Betelgeuse (Orion) before disappearing in the south-east. Predictions of where and when to see the ISS can be obtained from the Heavens Above website.
On This Day
1st 1966, Venera 3 (USSR) became the first craft to impact another planet (Venus).
4th 1979, Voyager 1 (USA) discovered the rings of Jupiter.
5th 1950, Tycho Brahe discovered a comet in the constellation of Pisces, the Fish. He was the first to show that comets were further away than the Moon.
6th 1986, Vega 1 (USSR) made the first flyby of Comet Halley and returned the first close-up images of a comet.
8th 1618, Johannes Kepler formulated his Third Law of Planetary Motion.
8th 1976, the largest known fall of stony meteorites occured in Jilin, China. The largest single meteorite had a mass of 1.77 tonnes.
9th 1979, Voyager 1 (USA) discovered volcanism on Io (a moon of Jupiter).
11th 1977, the rings of Uranus were discovered as the planet moved in front of a distant star (USA).
13th 1781, Uranus was discovered by Sir William Herschel (UK).
17th 1958, Vanguard 1 (USA) was launched. It is the oldest satellite still in orbit.
18th 1965, Voskhod 2 (USSR) carried the first two-person crew into orbit. Aleksei A. Leonov, also carried out the first tethered space walk.
20th 1916, Albert Einstein published his theory of gravity, the General Theory of Relativity.
23rd 1860, J W Drader (UK) takes a daguerrotype of the Moon, making it the first astrophotograph.
25th 1655, Christiaan Huygens discovers Titan, the largest moon of Saturn.
29th 1974, Mariner 10 (USA) made the first flyby and took the first close-up images of Mercury.