Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Night Sky: Visible Planets, Moon Phases & Events, March 2013

The night sky tonight and on any clear night offers an ever-changing display of fascinating objects you can see, from stars and constellations to bright planets, often the moon, and sometimes special events like meteor showers. Observing the night sky can be done with no special equipment, although a sky map can be very useful, and a good beginner telescope or binoculars will enhance some experiences and bring some otherwise invisible objects into view. Below, find out what’s up in the night sky tonight (Planets Visible Now, Moon Phases, Observing Highlights This Month) plus other resources (Skywatching Terms, Night Sky Observing Tips and Further Reading).

Monthly skywatching information is provided to SPACE.com by Geoff Gaherty of Starry Night Education, the leader in space science curriculum solutions. Follow Starry Night on Twitter @StarryNightEdu.
Editor's note: If you have an amazing skywatching photo you'd like to share for a possible story or image gallery, please contact managing editor Tariq Malik at spacephotos@space.com.
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Sky Events March 2013

Moon Phases

Mon., March 4, 4:53 p.m. EST

Last Quarter Moon
The last or third quarter moon rises around 12:30 a.m. and sets around 10:30 a.m. It is most easily seen just after sunrise in the southern sky.
Mon., March 11, 3:51 p.m. EDT
New Moon
The moon is not visible on the date of new moon because it is too close to the sun, but can be seen low in the east as a narrow crescent a morning or two before, just before sunrise. It is visible low in the west an evening or two after new moon.
Tue., March 19, 1:27 p.m. EDT
First Quarter Moon
The first quarter moon rises around 11 a.m. and sets around 1:30 a.m. It dominates the evening sky.
Full Moon, March 27, 2013

Tue., March 27, 5:27 a.m. EDT

Full Moon

The full moon of March is called the Storm Moon. Its Cree name is Migisupizum, meaning “eagle moon.” Other names are Crow Moon, Crust Moon, Sugar Moon, Sap Moon, Chaste Moon, Death Moon, Worm Moon and Lenten Moon. In Hindi it is known as Basanta Purnima or Dol Purnima. Its Sinhala (Buddhist) name is Medin. The full moon rises around sunset and sets around sunrise, the only night in the month when the moon is in the sky all night long. The rest of the month, the moon spends at least some time in the daytime sky.

Observing Highlights

Fri., March 1, late evening

Spica north of the moon

The moon will be close to the bright star Spica. Observers in the central Pacific Ocean and Central America will see the moon occult Spica. Look for Saturn rising below and to the left of the moon and Spica.

Thu., March 7, just after sunset

Comet C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS)

Look for Comet C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS) just after sunset, above and to the left of the sun, tonight and for the next couple of weeks.

Jupiter and the Moon

Another close conjunction between Jupiter and the Moon, close to Aldebaran and the Hyades. Say farewell to the Pleiades and the Orion Nebula, now sinking fast in the west.

Jupiter and the moon, March 17, 2013.
CREDIT: Starry Night Software
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Wed., March 20, 7:02 a.m. EDT

Vernal equinox

The Sun crosses the celestial equator heading north, marking the beginning of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Notice the close gathering of the planets Uranus, Mars and Venus close to the Sun: all are on the far side of the Sun relative to Earth.

Vernal equinox, March 20, 2013.
CREDIT: Starry Night Software
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Wed., March 27, early evening

Spica and the Moon

For the second time this month, the moon passes close to Spica. This time the moon will occult Spica for observers in southeast Asia, northern Australia, and the many islands to the west, north and east.

Sun., March 31, morning twilight

Mercury at greatest elongation west

This is not a good opportunity for observers in the Northern Hemisphere to observe Mercury in the morning sky, as shown here; Mercury will be much higher for observers in the Southern Hemisphere. Sweep the eastern horizon with binoculars to pick up Mercury’s tiny speck of light.

Mercury at greatest elongation west, March 31, 2013.
CREDIT: Starry Night Software
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Mercury will be in the eastern sky towards the end of the month, the best opportunity for observers in the Southern Hemisphere to see it as an “morning star” in 2013.

Venus is now very low in the southeast at sunrise, and will be superior conjunction with the sun on March 28, moving into the evening sky.

Mars has faded into the west moving behind the sun. It spends most of the month in the constellation Pisces.

Jupiter continues its stay in Taurus close to Aldebaran and the Hyades. It is high in the southwestern sky in the early evening and sets in the northwest around 1 a.m.

Saturn is spends the month in western Libra. It rises in the east at around 11:30 p.m., and is visible the rest of the night.

Uranus is in Pisces but too close to the sun to be observed.

Neptune is in Aquarius all month, too close to the sun to be observed.