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The casual observer

Technically summer has now finished, but there will still be no shortage of warm days as we enter the second half of Bunuru – the second summer. The silver lining of this is that we still have mostly cloudless nights to enjoy the wonders of the night sky.

Orion, Taurus and other neighbouring constellations are still good viewing in the northwest in the evenings. Over the next couple of months they will continue to move towards western horizon, so be sure to get a good look at them while viewing conditions are still favourable. Mars is also there as a bonus.

Image: Orion, Taurus and Mars make for good viewing in the northwest during March

The Gamma Normids meteor shower runs throughout the month, peaking on Mar 15. In good conditions you might expect to see a handful of meteors per hour, though this shower really isn’t one of the greatest.

The planets are putting on quite a show in the early evenings and early mornings. Be sure to catch the close approach of Jupiter and Venus in the western sky at sunset on Mar 2.

The Autumn equinox occurs on March 21st. The equinox marks the point in the Earth’s orbit where the Sun passes directly over Earth’s equator. People living at 0 degrees latitude will see the sun rise exactly in the east and set exactly in the west. It also means that everywhere on Earth will experience 12 hours of day and night on this date. That’s what equinox means after all: equi – equal, nox – night.

Image: Viewed from space, the day-night line is exactly parallel to Earth’s rotational axis on the day of the equinox, giving equal lengths of day and night to everywhere on the planet.

Credit: Robert Simmon, EUMETSAT

ISS sightings from Perth 

The International Space Station passes overhead multiple times a day. Most of these passes are too faint to see but a couple of notable sightings are:

Date, time  Appears  Max Height  Disappears  Magnitude  Duration 
3 Mar 7:51 PM   10° above SSW 41°  30° above E   -3.1  4.5 min 
5 Mar 7:52 PM   10° above SW 50°  20° above NNE   -3.0 5 min 

Table: Times and dates to spot the ISS from Perth 

Source: Heavens above, Spot the Station 

Phases of the Moon

Full Moon

March 7

Last Quarter

March 15

New Moon

March 22

First Quarter

March 29

Full Moon

March 7

Dates of interest

  1. Jupiter and Venus close approach in western sky at sunset

    March 2

  2. SpaceX Crew 6 mission launches to the International Space Station

    March 2

  3. Mercury and Saturn close in the eastern sky at sunrise

    March 3

  4. Autumn equinox

    March 21

  5. Moon close to Venus

    March 24

  6. Moon close to Mars

    March 28

  7. Venus and Uranus close encounter

    March 30

Planets to look for

Mercury is up just before sunrise for the first week of March. It has a close approach with distant and faint Saturn on Mar 3 before disappearing below the eastern horizon a few days later. A waning crescent moon joins Saturn in the eastern sky on Mar 20.

Jupiter and Venus are both easily visible in the western sky at sunset. Venus will be the brighter of the two. They have a close approach on Mar 2 but are still pretty close together for the week afterwards as well, so you have more opportunities to see them. Jupiter is moving rapidly westwards, so will be gone from the night sky by the end of the month, meaning this is your chance to catch it before it disappears behind the sun for a while.

Interestingly, Uranus is hiding in the background of all of this, and there is a close approach of Venus and Uranus on Mar 30-31, though the proximity of the event to the sunset and the distance of Uranus will make this extremely difficult to observe.

Image: Venus and Uranus in the west on Mar 30

Mars is still sitting patiently in the northwest sky during the evenings, and you can catch it at the same time you go and look at Orion and Taurus.

Constellation of the month

Crater the cup

Crater is a small, faint constellation in the southern sky represented by a drinking cup. Lying above the plane of the milky way, the brightest star in the constellation – the giant star Delta Crateris – comes in at only magnitude 3.6.

Being so faint and unremarkable, it is easier to first locate the more distinctive Corvus and then hop to Crater:

Image: The distinct shape of Corvus guides observers to Crater

Most stories about this part of the sky have Corvus representing a crow who was commanded to use Crater to bring water to the god Apollo. On its journey the crow was distracted when it stopped to eat some figs, delaying its water fetching objective. To explain its tardiness, the crow snatched a snake from the water to return to Apollo, explaining that the snake had hampered its attempts to collect water. Apollo saw through the deception and cast Corvus, Crater and the water snake (Hydra) into the sky.

Image: Crater and Corvus sit on the back of Hydra in the sky

Crater is home to the Crater 2 Dwarf Galaxy, a recently discovered unusually faint satellite galaxy of the Milky Way about 380 000 light years away.

Object for the small telescope

The Crater Triangle

The three brightest stars in Crater, Delta, Alpha and Gamma, form a faint but distinctive triangle in Crater. Not an official asterism by any means, observing the faint stars requires some careful technique. Be sure not to get distracted by nearby Nu Hydrae; this star is part of neighbouring Hydra.

Image: The Crater triangle made up of Delta, Alpha and Gamma Crateris.

Delta and Alpha Crateris are both giant stars. Heavier than the sun, they have consumed their nuclear fuel faster, and are now expanding and cooling as they age and start to fuse helium in their cores.

Gamma Crateris is a binary system consisting of a white main sequence star and a smaller fainter companion. In a good telescope you may be able to resolve this system to see both stars.

Other space news 

A new layer to Earth’s inner core has been discovered

Is Dark Energy explained by black holes? Maybe. Maybe not

NASA has contracted Blue Origin to launch the ESCAPADE mission to Mars in 2024

SpaceX will be lunching the Crew 6 mission to the International Space Station

Climate scientists constructed an interactive climate model of Arrakis (Dune)

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