What’s up? Night sky for March 2011

Silhouette of people with telescopes

Saturn and Venus will be the planets to watch for when you're out stargazing in March 2011.

THIS MONTH, Venus will be visible in the eastern morning sky for quite some hours before sunrise. You won’t be able to miss it—it will be big and bright and wonderful.

Mercury will be very low down on the western horizon after sunset this month, and will be very difficult to see.

Mars has been lost in the glare of the Sun since early February, but during March will begin to make its reappearance in the eastern morning sky. It will be too low to be seen until towards the end of the month, however, at which time it will rise about an hour before the Sun.

Jupiter is about to be lost in the glare of the Sun. It is very low down in the west after sunset, and by the end of the month it will set (ie. drop below the horizon) only 15 minutes after the Sun does, making it essentially impossible to spot.

Saturn is the evening planet to see at the moment, rising roughly two hours before midnight and riding high in the northern sky throughout the night.

Except where indicated, all of the phenomena described here can be seen with just the unaided eye. And unless otherwise specified, dates and times shown here are for the Australian Eastern Daylight Time zone, and sky directions are from the point of view of an observer in the Southern Hemisphere.

March 1

Look for the crescent Moon above and to the left of Venus in the eastern morning sky. Also, if you’re out stargazing after 10:00pm, look to the northeastern sky and you’ll see two fairly bright stars side by side. The one on the right is Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo. The one on the left is actually a planet, Saturn.

Silhouette of people and telescopes

Autumn nights are good for stargazing.

March 5

New Moon occurs today at 7:46am Sydney time (March 4, 20:46 Universal Time).

March 6

Today the Moon will be at the farthest point in its orbit, called apogee, at a distance from Earth of 406,584 kilometres.

March 13

It is First Quarter Moon today at 10:45am Sydney time (March 12, 23:45 Universal Time).

March 17

The almost-full Moon will be above and to the left of Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo.

March 18

In a demonstration of how it’s position changes from one night to the next, tonight the Moon will be above and to the right of Regulus.

March 20

Full Moon occurs today at 5:10am Sydney time (March 19, 18:10 Universal Time). Today also marks the Moon’s perigee, which is the opposite of apogee, ie. the point in its orbit when it is closest to the Earth. The distance between the two bodies today will be 356,578 kilometres. Apogee and perigee distances are not exactly the same from month to month, and it turns out that this month’s lunar perigee will be the closest for all of 2011.

Finally, have a look just below and to the right of the Moon and you’ll see a brightish ‘star’ with a yellow tinge—this is actually the ringed planet Saturn. If you have a telescope, or know someone who does, turn it to Saturn and marvel at the sight of its majestic rings.

People stargazing at night

All the sights described in the text can be seen with the unaided eye.

March 21

Today marks the equinox, when the Sun heads north of the equator. It is the point midway between the midpoint of summer and the midpoint of winter for those in the Southern Hemisphere.

Also, have a look just below and to the left of the Moon, and you’ll see a fairly bright star. This is Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo.

March 25

The Moon will be above and to the right of red Antares, the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius.

March 26

It is Last Quarter Moon today at 11:07pm Sydney time (March 26, 12:07 Universal Time).

March 31

Look for the crescent Moon above and to the left of Venus in the eastern morning sky.

If you have any questions or comments on the night sky, we’d be happy to answer them. Please use the feedback form below. Happy stargazing!

Images courtesy IAU.

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  1. Jonathan Nally says:

    Hi Peter,
    Thanks for your question.
    Depending on how clear a person’s horizon is (trees, hills, buildings etc), I’d say the last reasonable chance of seeing Jupiter low on the western horizon will be around 23 March … certainly for temperate zone southern latitudes.
    Cheers,
    Jonathan

  2. Peter Mead says:

    Hello Jonathan and thanks for this article. Which day of the month do you think will be the last day for viewing Jupiter?

    Cheers,
    Peter Mead – BDAS President