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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Look At The Sky: March

**Mar 20 - Vernal Equinox

The Solar System in March 2015 :

Mercury - Little Mercury will be favorably placed for early morning observations in nearly dark skies, rising about 6:15 a.m. local time due east; this will put it high enough to spot about 30 minutes later in morning dawn skies  -  in  AQUARIUS

Venus - Look for our brightest planet high above the western sky at dark, shining brighter (mag. -4.0!) than any other object in the night sky except the moon.  This is one of the most favorable opportunities to view Venus in dark skies, particularly in the evening hours.  The planet is nearly fully illuminated (not in its phases) as seen from Earth right now and is brilliant white in telescopes or binoculars.  It sets about 9:15 p.m. local time at mid-month.  In PISCES

Jupiter -  Still the dominant planet for viewing all night long, high overhead all night for northern observers, having just passed opposition last month; this will be just about as good a month for observing this planet as telescopic observers will have, rising just after dusk and high overhead at midnight. Jupiter will be our only evening observable planet this month - In CANCER

Saturn - The ringed planet is now high in the eastern sky, rising about midnight local time p.m. and very favorably placed for excellent telescopic viewing, directly overhead just about the time that morning dawn breaks; as the year progresses, it will be a very favorable year for the viewing the favorite planet among the solar system - in LIBRA

Uranus -  This distant planet is nearing conjunction with the sun, setting less than an hour after; HOWEVER, note the very nice close conjunction of this planet with MARS on March 10-14 this year! - in PISCES.

Comets for March

Comet Lovejoy c2014 Q2 - This is likely to be "The Comet of 2015" for northern hemisphere observers....putting on a spectacular show throughout late 2014 for the observers in the southern hemisphere, this comet is now very high overhead, circumpolar, by mid month in February.  It should be magnitude 8.0 at this time, high in the constellation of ANDROMEDA by the time the skies darken, and only slightly further west throughout the rest of the evening.  This comet does not set until around 2 a.m., so this should prove to be quite a sight.  Right now, the very active tail should be shooting off to the northeast from a very large and green coma, with distinct nucleus.  Don't miss this one, folks....these do not come by with this ease of observation very often!

METEOR SHOWERS for March 2015:

Observe when the moon does not interfere and attempt to observe AFTER midnight for most meteors to be seen!  During March, three primary meteor showers peak but none are on the order of which we could call "major events."   However, as with a months and times during the year, observers should always be aware that new sporadic meteor showers can occur at anytime from seemingly unknown sources and radiants,

March 16 - Corona-Australid Meteors - A very good year for this meteor shower since the moon will be in waning crescent phase for several days before and after the peak; thus the light of the moon will not hamper late night/early morning meteor observing of this very short duration and very southerly shower.   This brief shower, emanating as its name implies from within the southern constellation of Corona Australis, begins typically around March 14 and members can be traced back to that radiant until March 18; from the United States and Europe, this shower never gets above 7 degrees for its radiant, but brighter meteors can be seen streaking from south to north from it; as many as 15-17 meteors can be seen hourly in good conditions.

March 22 - Camelopardalid Meteors - Already high in the sky at dark, this meteor shower really has no definite peak, but a few meteors per hour can be seen coming from this very high northern meteor shower, only 22 degrees from the northern celestial pole;  hence it is "up all night" for those braving the cold temperatures of March.  Not only are there very few meteors to be seen from this rather dull shower, but the ones that ARE noticed travel the slowest across the sky of all known meteors....only about 7 kilometers per second!  We see them as they begin to burn at an altitude of about 80 kms (~50 miles) above the Earth's surface.  If you are interested, attempt to spot meteors from dark until about dawn but note that the absence of moonlight in 2015 will allow for ideal conditions. 

March 22 - March Geminid Meteors - A good year for this meteor shower, since the moon will be absent in the sky after early evening....Discovered in 1973 by amateur astronomers, much is still to be learned on this shower, so this is one where you can make a valuable contribution by observing.  The radiant is high overhead for northern hemisphere observers at the time the sky truly gets dark, but because of bright moonlight, only the brightest meteors (if any) will be seen.   When first discovered in Hungary, nearly 50 meteors per hour in a short-burst stream were seen and this was confirmed again with sightings in 1975.  Like the Camelopardalids (above), the meteors in this stream are very slow and there is some possibility that the two showers could be linked to two diffuse clouds of debris from one parent object.  Any meteors from this unusual and elusive shower should be reported immediately to the American Meteor Society at:

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