Welcome to spring! In theory at least – someone should really let our climate know that it’s time to brighten up a little bit. Depending on whether or not you adhere to the meteorological or astronomical definitions of “spring”, it officially began either on 1st March or will begin on the 20th March (respectively).
The astronomical 20th of March spring time start date is due to the Spring Equinox. This is when, in theory, we get 12 hours of daylight and nighttime exactly equally – hence equinox. This doesn’t always work out due to the way light interacts with our atmosphere but it’s roughly correct. The Spring Equinox is celebrated by cultures the world over, and especially by Pagans! If you want to impress a Pagan, take them on a date to a Spring Equinox celebration.
What planets can you see this month?
Venus is the only planet this month to view in the evenings and into nighttime. It has been a feature of our stargazing for months now and March is an excellent time to look out for the 3rd brightest object in our sky (3rd only to the sun and the moon!). You may have been looking at Venus thinking it was a star, however planets give out flat, non-twinkling light. Look west all month to spot it – it comes out quite early in the evening! Venus will appear higher each night until the 24th of March 2020 when it reaches greatest elongation east from the Sun (elevation of ~40 degrees) – about the highest elevation it can ever achieve!
If you really want to see more planets, on the 18th there is the opportunity to see three! Only one catch – you have to get up before dawn (05:58am – yikes!). Face southeast and you’ll see the moon down and to the right of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.
The International Space Station
Usually the ISS must be observed from our location very early in the morning, however this month provides the opportunity for evening gazing! Every night from the 20th of March through to the beginning of April, the ISS can be seen in the South or South West of the sky from 7pm – 9pm. See below for a detailed list of times and locations.
But how do you know if you are looking at the ISS? Well it moves quickly across the night sky (for us, close to the horizon) and may look like a star that has decided to go for a walk across the constellations. If you see anything moving at this speed across the sky and you are almost definitely looking at the ISS.
Featuring strongly in our sky this time of year is the constellation of Gemini the twins. This well known constellation as it’s a member of The Zodiac. It’s relatively easy to spot as the two stars marking the heads of the twin boys Castor and Pollux are especially bright – you will see them even through the glare of city light pollution.
If you have access to binoculars, you will be able to spot a very interesting object just to the left of Gemini; The Eskimo Nebula.
The Eskimo Nebula gets its name from its resemblance to a person sticking their face out of a small, furry hood. This is a planetary nebula, and at its core you can see a small star that has blown out all of the surrounding gas. The orange filaments you can see in the outer layer are over a light-year long each.
Well I hope this has given you some things to try and look out for this time of year. Remember to stand outside and let your eyes adjust for around 20 minutes before you really try observing to get the full benefit. Stay warm, stay safe and wash your hands!