The Moon will be New on March 2nd, and Full on March 18th, near Spica in Virgo the following night. The waxing Moon passes between the Hyades and Pleiades clusters in Taurus once again on the 8th. This year the spring equinox is on March 20th, and the waning crescent Moon is below Venus, Saturn and Mars on the morning of March 26th, the day before British Summer Time starts.
A derelict rocket stage, due to hit the Moon on March 4th, was first thought to be the upper stage of the Falcon 9 rocket which delivered the Discover probe to the Earth-Sun L1 point in 2015, and then was re-identified as the upper stage which delivered China’s Chang’e 5-T1 test satellite to the Moon, before the Chang’e 4 landing on the Farside in 2019 and the Chang’e 5 sample return to Earth in 2020. Now it seems that stage returned to Earth and burned up, so it’s a mystery once again. Chang’e 4 and its Yutu-2 rover are still operating, relaying signals through the Queqiao comsat which replaced Chang’e 5-T1, so it will be interesting to see if they pick up any seismic readings from the crash – that’s never been done on the Farside before.
The planet Mercury is low in the morning sky in early March, rising about 6.15 a.m. below Venus and Mars, passing Saturn on the 2nd, and disappearing as the month goes on.
Venus rises about 4.30 a.m. and is brilliant through the month, at its furthest from the Sun on March 20th, on the spring equinox, and nearest to the Moon on the 28th.
Mars rises at 5.00a.m., in Capricornus, below and to the right of Venus, closest on the 12th. Venus and Mars are above the waning crescent Moon on the 28th.
Jupiter is not visible in March, passing by the New Moon on the 2nd and at superior conjunction beyond the Sun on the 5th. After successfully launching the James Webb Space Telescope in December, Arianespace has announced that it has ceased production of the Ariane 5 rocket and instead will develop larger clip-on boosters for the Ariane 6, now undergoing tests at the Kourou launch site in French Guiana. Ariane 6 was intended for smaller payloads, but will now have a similar capability to Ariane 5, only less costly. The last launch of Ariane 5 will be Europe’s JUICE mission (Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer) in 2023, by which time Ariane 6 is expected to be operational.
Saturn, also in Capricornus, rises in the morning sky about 5.30 a.m., and is below Venus and fainter, at the end of the month, forming an isosceles triangle on its side with Mars, at the apex, above the Moon on the 28th.
Uranus in Aries sets around 10.30 p.m., near the Moon on the 7th, and occulted by it in south-east Australia.
Neptune is behind the Sun in March, at superior conjunction on the 13th.
The James Webb Space Telescope, orbiting the Earth-Sun L2 point, continues to cool down its 18 mirror segments and reposition them. As of February 26th three of the repositioning stages had been completed and the 18 images of the star in Ursa Major had been brought to a single point, which will be made still sharper as time goes on.
There will be several comets in the sky during March, none of them visible to the naked eye, but at the beginning of March Comet 2019 US (PanSTARRS) will pass within a degree to the west of the globular cluster M13 in Hercules, and should be easy to find with a medium-sized telescope.
Duncan Lunan’s most recent book, The Other Side of the Interface, was published by Other Side Books at the beginning of 2021, and is available through Amazon or through bookshops, or from the publishers. For details and for his other books see Duncan’s website, www.duncanlunan.com.
Astronomy expert Duncan Lunan has written a series of articles for The Orkney News. This is a link to the latest: Galaxies Part 1