Welcome to the March night sky. This is an equinox month when the Sun will be seen to be crossing the celestial equator moving north.
The implication of this is that the whole world experiences approximately 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night on and around March 20. This marks the start of spring in the northern hemisphere.
March nights see three meteor showers. The first is on the 16th, named the Corona Australids. This shower has its origin in the southern hemisphere of the night-sky, so, from Europe, it only can be seen low down to the south.
The other two showers occur on the same night; that is the night of the 22nd. One is called the Camelopardalids and the other is the March-Geminids.
Notably, these shooting stars move relatively slowly across the night-sky, taking a few seconds rather than less than a second to streak across the sky.
The March-Geminids were only identified in 1973 and may be part of a single cometary body with the Camelopardalids.
On the first night of the month, the gas giant planet Jupiter and brilliant Venus will both be seen close together low in the west as darkness falls. The thin crescent Moon will be close to Venus on the 23rd and 24th and also close to Jupiter on the 22nd.
The spring night-sky in the northern hemisphere is marked by the winter constellations of Orion and Taurus setting in the west and being replaced by the constellations of Leo and Virgo rising in the east.
Overhead on spring evenings, we have the well-known constellation of Ursa Major, or the Great Bear, and sometimes called the Big Dipper.
This area of the night-sky is known as The Realm of the Galaxies as, in this direction, we are looking out of our own Milky-Way Galaxy into deep space.
In the triangle of the sky marked by the stars Regulus in Leo, Spica in Virgo and Arcturus in Boötes, there will be more faint galaxies than there are stars in our own. None of these faint objects are visible with our own unaided eyes as they are millions and billions of light years away.
Our own Milky-Way galaxy used to be said to have about 100 billion stars 50 years ago, but now, with the discovery of many low-mass red and brown dwarfs, this number is constantly revised upwards with more than 500 billion now being the consensus.
With practically all stars now known to have planets, the total in our galaxy alone must exceed one trillion.
The Moon is at full on the 7th, last quarter on the 15th, new on the 21st and first quarter on March 29.
By Clive Jackson
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Clive Jackson is the director of the Camera Obscura – Tavira EYE attraction, located near the Castle of Tavira. Specialising in education and public outreach.
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To see the March Sky Map click on the pdf link below