By Duncan Lunan
The Moon will be Full on March 9th, and New on March 24th, four days after this year’s spring equinox and five days before the clocks go forward on the 29th.There will be a Supermoon on 9th March, when the Moon will be Full and also at its closest to Earth. It will pass through the Hyades Open Cluster in Taurus after sunset on 29th March. This quarter also features an elaborate sequence of conjunctions of the Sun, the Moon and all the planets including the Earth (every time), continuing below.
The planet Mercury will be invisible, though it will be at greatest western elongation from the Sun on March 24th.
Venus is brilliant in the evening sky, moving from Pisces through Aries into Taurus, setting at 10 p.m. initially and after midnight by the end of March, after greatest eastern elongation on March 24th. Venus appears 2 degrees to the right of Uranus on March 7th , and the Moon appears near Venus when they are below the Pleiades and Hyades clusters on March 28th and 29th.
Mars is in Sagittarius, reaching Capricornus by the end of the month, still in the morning sky, rising about 4 a.m.. The Moon appears near Mars on March 18th with Jupiter nearby at the time; Mars passes below Jupiter on March 20th and Saturn on March 31st.
Jupiter is also in Sagittarius, rising at 4.45 a.m, near the Moon with Mars beyond it on the 19th, and with Mars passing below Jupiter the following night.
Saturn too is in Sagittarius, rising along with Mars and Jupiter. The Moon is below Saturn on March 19th and Mars passes below Saturn on the 31st, both in the morning sky.
Uranus in Pisces sets at 9.30 p.m. in March, appearing 2 degrees left of Venus on March 7th, passed by the Moon on the 26th and disappearing behind the Sun by the end of the month.
Neptune in Aquarius is lost behind the Sun by the end of March, at superior conjunction on the far side of the Sun on April 8th.
If you find the constellation Orion from the map, you’ll find it looking slightly different. Betelgeuse, at the top left of the constellation, has dimmed in brightness by over 50% and is no longer the brightest star in Orion. Betelgeuse is a red giant star of huge size and it does vary in brightness, in complex cycles, so it may be that those have coincided. But it’s known that Betelgeuse will explode as a supernova sometime within the next 100,000 years, and if it does, at a distance of 640 light-years it will be brighter than the Full Moon, visible in daylight.
The next meeting of the Astronomers of the Future Club in Troon will be on Thursday March 26th at 7.15 p.m., upstairs in the RSAS Barassie Works Club, 4 Shore Road, Troon, KA10 6AG, cost £3. The speaker will be Dr. Fraser MacDonald of Edinburgh University, talking about his new book “Escape from Earth”, about the early history of the US space programme. For more details, contact Alan Martin on 07947 331632.
Duncan Lunan’s new book “From the Moon to the Stars”, a collection of space travel stories old and new relating to the Moon and Project Apollo, is now available from the publishers at https://othersidebooks.wordpress.com, as well as on Amazon or through booksellers; details of that and his other books are on Duncan’s website, www.duncanlunan.com.