Sky Watching March 2013


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March is a time of transition from the long, cold nights of winter to the longer days of spring.  We adapt to this change by moving our clocks on hour ahead of the sun on the morning of March 10 in most of the United States.  While there’s still not much daylight to save or shift to evening hours, daylight increases by nearly 85 minutes during the month.

On March 20, astronomical spring begins in the northern hemisphere.  At 6:02 a.m. CDT, the sun’s rays are most direct on the equator, marking the vernal equinox.

Moon Phases

Moon Phase Date
Last Quarter March 4
New Moon March 11
First Quarter March 19
Full Moon March 27

Comet PanSTARRS

Comet PanSTARRS emerges from behind the sun in March.  While this posting is being composed in late February 2013, the comet’s brightness seems dimmer than once predicted.  The following video explains the difficulty in predicting comet brightness and more about the comet:

pans_luneOn the evening following New Moon, the crescent moon appears near the comet as shown in the chart above.  Look for the crescent moon low in the western sky.  Binoculars may be required to see the comet.

Evening Sky

Jupiter is high in the southwest at sunset, setting in the west at 1 a.m. CST early in the month.  By month’s end it sets at 12:30 a.m. CDT.

jup_luneJust a few nights after the moon appears with Comet PanSTARRS, it appears near Jupiter.  The chart above shows the moon and Jupiter in front of the stars of Taurus.   The bright star Aldebaran is nearby along with the bull’s bright star clusters:  Pleiades and Hyades.


sat_luneThe above chart shows Saturn and Spica with the Moon on March 1 and March 2 at 5 a.m. CST in the southern sky.

sat_lune_2Later in the month, the moon moves past Spica and Saturn again.  The chart shows them in the southwest at 5 a.m. CDT.  By month’s end, Saturn rises at 9:30 p.m. CDT.

Venus and Mars are not visible this month.   Venus reaches superior conjunction on March 28 and is set to move into the western evening sky in April to become a bright Evening Star.  (See our posting for Venus as an Evening Star, 2013-2014.)

Slide1This chart shows the positions of Earth, Sun, and Venus when Venus is at superior conjunction on March 28.  It is on the far side of the sun and lost in the sun’s brilliance.

Mars moves deeper into bright evening twilight and approaches conjunction on April 18 then moving into the morning sky visible in the eastern sky before sunrise starting in late June.

sol_sysThis chart shows the planets visible from Earth in their relative positions in the solar system on March 15, 2013.  (Click the image to see it larger.  On the this date, Mercury, Venus, and Mars appear in the sun’s bright glare.  Jupiter and Saturn are seen easily seen as they are away from the sun’s bright glare.

With the changing of the seasons and the bright winter stars fading in the western sky, March offers more daylight and the possibilities of a bright comet.

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