The Night Skies in March

March Equinox: Equal Day and Night (nearly).

March Equinox in the Northern hemisphere is on Wednesday, 20 March 2019, 21:58 GMT (figures 1 & 2).

Figure 1. On the equinox the Earth's axis is perpendicular to the Sun's rays.   Equinoxes occur because the axis of the Earth's spin, its polar axis is tilted at an angle of 23.5° to the plane of its orbit around the Sun (not to scale).

Figure 2. Equinoxes and solstices mark the beginning of astronomical seasons. The equinoxes start spring and autumn, while solstices mark the beginning of summer and winter.

In March, the Sun is travelling northwards across the equator.

On 21st March there will be a full Moon, known as the Worm Moon (figure 3) and it is usually considered the last Full Moon of winter. It is also called Lenten Moon, Crow Moon, Crust Moon, Chaste Moon, Sugar Moon, and Sap Moon. It marks the end of winter, and the start of spring and the Full Moon is named after the earthworms that emerge at this time of year. Sap Moon or Sugar Moon mark the time for harvesting maple syrup from maple tree saps. Another name is Crust Moon, after the crust which forms on top of snow as it melts and refreezes. Chaste Moon refers to the purity of the spring season, while Crow Moon signifies that crows appear at the end of winter. Lentenis derived from Germanic languages and means spring, and has also given name to the Christian lent period before the Easter celebrations.

Figure 3. Worm Moon.

Close approach of the Moon and Jupiter: 27th March will see these two bodies pass within 1°52' of each other. The Moon will be 21 days old. Visible in the morning sky, becoming accessible at approximately 02:54, when they rise 7° above the South East horizon. They will reach highest point in the sky at 05:32, 15° above the South horizon. They will be lost to dawn twilight at about 05:41, 15° above the South horizon. They may be difficult to observe because they will appear no higher than 15° above the horizon.

They will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope, however, they should be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars (figure 4 & 5). On 27th March the distance of the Moon and Jupiter from Earth will be:

Moon = 0.0026 Astronomical Units (AU’s) = 241 800 miles

Jupiter = 5 AU’s = 465 000 000 miles

Figure 4. Moon and Jupiter close approach.

Figure 5. Jupiter visible to the naked eye as a tiny star-like object (circled) just below the moon (top).

WARNING: Never attempt to view through binoculars, telescope or any optical aid an object close to the Sun. Also, never attempt to view the Sun unaided, doing so may result in immediate and permanent blindness. Always use astronomical approved viewing equipment.

The Stellarium software will assist greatly in locating objects in the sky.

Mark R Smith FRAS

Physicist - Nuclear Fusion & Astrophysics.