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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Look At The Sky - March




The Planets for MARCH:
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NOTE that EIGHT (8) of our nine planets in March will be grouped together in the early daylight morning skies at mid-month;  Mercury, Venus, Mars, Earth, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune are all in the sky at about 9 a.m. local time....only JUPITER is absent from the entourage!

Mercury - Mercury is unfavorably placed in the sky and is in very strong twilight all month - in CAPRICORNUS

Venus - our brightest planet will be high in bright western skies at dusk, and through a telescope this is a good month to view Venus in its CRESCENT phase, only about 28 percent illuminated as seen from Earth., At mid-month, Venus is not gaining any altitude - nor losing any - against the western horizon, but is moving very slightly northward against each night's sunset.  Grouped with Venus on the 15th will be the planets MARS (to the east, or left) and further east will be Uranus.  Mars will be visible to the naked eye as a very reddish bright "star" while Uranus requires telescopes to spot.  - in PISCES.

Mars - See VENUS, above....Mars is very low in west and now distant....not a good telescopic object - in PISCES

Jupiter - Now rising in the EAST about midnight local time, the largest of all planets will be high overhead at about 4:00 a.m. local time and high in the sky about the time that ringed Saturn rises in the east; look for the bright gibbous moon very close to Jupiter on the 15th - in VIRGO

Saturn - Very low in eastern skies and rising about 3:30 a.m. local time, the ringed planet will make its yearly debut in predawn skies by mid-month - in OPHIUCHUS/Sagittarius

Uranus - distant planet Uranus is setting in the west near Mars and Venus at mid-month.   It shines at magnitude 5.9, bright enough to spot in good binoculars if one knows where to look; use a good planetarium sky program or GO TO telescope to locate this distant world; by sunrise it is high in dark skies and will show a faint, blue disk in large telescopes - PISCES

Neptune - Our most distant world, outside of Pluto, is now setting in strong twilight in western skies and will not be viewable for a couple of months.. - in AQUARIUS

Pluto - at magnitude 14.3, our most distant planet (yes....it is a planet) will begin to be visible in bright eastern dawn skies, right on the horizon about 5:30 a.m. late in the month. It will be visible in telescopes very low in the east late in December.  - in SAGITTARIUS


Comet Possibilities for March:
There are dozens of observable comets visible every month, in every part of the sky.
For March there are only a few bright comets visible for modest telescopes.  However that can always change quickly, so check the "Alerts" section of ASO often. 

Comet c2015 V2 (Johnson) is high overhead at sunrise, rising about 2 a.m. local time in the constellation of Hercules.

Comet 45P (Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova) is also very high overhead at midnight in the constellation of Leo Minor; although predictions show it at magnitude 14 or so, it has been MUCH brighter and very active than expected, so get out and look for this one.

Comet 41P (Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak) is also active this year and is brightening beyond its predictions; at mid-month the comet is predicted to e magnitude 8.1, but it is likely to be brighter than that.

Meteor Showers for March 2017

March 16 - Corona-Australid Meteors - A poor year for this meteor shower since the strong gibbous moon will be in the sky all night shortly after sunset; thus the light of the moon will 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 2017 until AFTER about 3 a.m. local time) 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 until a couple of hours prior to dawn....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:  kronk@amsmeteors.org .

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