Skynotes March 2017

Skynotes

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Month Highlights

The Moon, Mars and Venus can be seen together in the western sky at the very start of the month. By the end of the month, the Moon is again paired up with Mars, but this time the faint planet Mercury sits below them.

Jupiter can be found rising in the east during the evening, and by morning it is in the north-west with Saturn high in the north.

Can you see the stars? GLOBE at Night

Join thousands of people world-wide hunting for stars. GLOBE at Night aims to learn more about light pollution around the world. Each month features a different campaign and for March the search is on for Canis Major. Make your observations between the 20th and 29th and match what you can see to one of eight star charts. The results are plotted on a world map to track how our view of the dark night sky varies - it now includes a decade's worth of data!

Sunrise & Sunset Times

 Date Rise Set
Wednesday 1st 7:04 8:00
Saturday 11th 7:14 7:45
Tuesday 21st 7:23 7:30
Friday 31st 7:32 7:15

Moon Phases

Moon Phase Date
First Quarter Sunday 5th
Full Moon Monday 13th
Last Quarter Tuesday 21st
New Moon Tuesday 28th

The Moon will be at apogee (furthest from Earth) on Sunday 19th, at a distance of 404, 650km.

The Moon will be at perigee (closest to Earth) on Friday 3rd, at a distance of 369,063 km.

Let The Moon Be Your Guide

The Moon can be used as a pointer to find other objects in the sky:

  • After sunset on the 1st, the waxing crescent Moon is above Venus and to the left of Mars.
  • On the 2nd, the crescent Moon sits above Mars.
  • The First Quarter Moon is to the right of Aldebaran (Taurus, the bull) on the 5th.
  • On the 8th, the waxing gibbous Moon sits above the twin stars of Castor and Pollux (Gemini).
  • The Moon is to the left of bright Regulus (Leo, the lion) on the 10th.
  • The Moon, Jupiter and Spica (Virgo) are lined up in a row on the night of the 14th.
  • Before sunrise on the 19th, the waning gibbous Moon is below the red supergiant star Antares (Scorpius) and to the left of Saturn.
  • On the 21st, the Last Quarter Moon is below Saturn in the early morning sky.
  • During evening twilight on the 29th, the thin crescent Moon is just to the left of Mercury.
  • After sunset on the 30th, the waxing crescent Moon sits to the left of Mars.
  • On the 31st, the Moon can now be seen above Mars.

Planets

Mercury only briefly enters the evening the sky this month. It can be spotted just after sunset during the last few days of the month and it is quite low to the western horizon. Try looking for it on the 29th, when the thin crescent Moon will be just above and to the left of the faint planet.

Venus is low to the western horizon during evening twilight and will only be seen during the first week of the month. On the 1st, the thin crescent Moon sits above Venus and to the left of the red planet Mars. Venus then moves towards the Sun and will return to the morning sky come April.

Earth experiences the Autumn Equinox on Monday 20th. At 9:28pm the Sun crosses the celestial equator heading north. Day and night are of equal length a few days later, on Friday 24th. This delay is partly 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 can be found in the western sky at sunset. Bright Venus is just below it during the first week of the month. Mars begins and ends the month with the Moon. On the 1st, the crescent Moon sits directly to the left of Mars, and on the 2nd the Moon is just above it. This pattern repeats itself on the 30th and 31st.

Jupiter can be found rising in the east late in the evening, alongside the bright star Spica (Virgo). On the night of the 14th, the Moon, Jupiter and Spica form a tight line in the eastern sky. By morning, Jupiter can be seen in the north-west.

Saturn is high in the north at sunrise. Sitting above it is the constellation of Scorpius with its distinctive curved line of stars. On the 20th, the Moon sits to the left of Saturn.

Meteors

There are two small meteor showers this month that occur near the South Celestial Pole. The gamma Normids is due to peak around the 14th, which unfortunately coincides with the bright Full Moon. This shower is centred on the yellow giant star, gamma Normae in the constellation of Norma, the level. The second shower is the delta Pavonids, which peak in early April, but 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:

9:35pm - 9:37pm, Friday 10th March.

The Station will appear low in the south-west and move towards Alpha Centauri, the bright star near the Southern Cross. 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 1590, 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.