Sky Notes for March 2013 #stargazing
Daylight increases rapidly during March as the Sun climbs higher in the sky each day. The rising and setting points can be seen to move noticeably northwards along the horizon over just a few days. The Spring Equinox occurs at 11 AM on March 20th. The days are longer than the nights for the next 6 months.
The clocks go forward to British Summer Time at 1 AM on Sunday 31st March.
By the end of March it is not fully dark until 9.30 PM BST. Looking to the West at this time the winter stars are bowing out with Orion and Taurus, accompanied still by Jupiter, getting low. By 11 PM looking East the spring constellations of Virgo, Bootes and Hercules are all on show and Saturn is making an appearance in the late evening sky low in the South East.
With New Moon on 11th March, the best nights for observing in darker skies will be in the first half of the month. The young crescent Moon will be visible from the evening of the 14th onwards and rises sharply higher each night at this time of year. On the evening of the 17th a one third illuminated Moon passes close to Jupiter.
Full Moon is on 27th March and now much lower than in winter at only about 30 degrees altitude when due South.
The highlight of the month could be the appearance of comet C/2011 L4 (PanSTARRS). Lots more information on this and other comets can be found on the BAA Comet Section website.
Current estimates remain that it will peak at magnitude +3. Terry Lovejoy took this superb image from Australia:
The best chances of seeing it are in evening twilight from the middle of the month onwards. A clear Western horizon will be needed as it will always be low. For example, on the 20th March at 7.30 PM the comet will be 8 degrees in altitude and just North of West. The comet may be best seen in low power binoculars and should show a tail. The usual word of warning – this should not be attempted until the Sun has fully set.
The near miss of one small asteroid, and an actual strike on the Earth of another on the same day in February reminds us that our Solar System is a dynamic place. Comet PanSTARRS poses no such threat as it will be much more distant – over 160 million km away during the second half of March.
James Abbott is an astronomer, NEAS member and CfDS Regional Information Officer.
Posted on 5 March, 2013, in Astronomy News, Observing News, Popular Science, Stargazing and tagged Bootes, comet, Hercules, panstarrs, Spring Equinox, Virgo. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Sky Notes for March 2013 #stargazing.