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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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What’s up? November’s night sky

Amateur telescopes pointed at the sky

November is a good month for stargazing. If you have a telescope or binoculars, great—but don't worry if you haven't, as all of the phenomena described below can be seen with the unaided eye.

The planets Venus and Saturn make a welcome re-appearance this month, out to the east in the morning sky. You won’t miss Venus—it’s the biggest and brightest light in sky (after the Sun and Moon, of course). Saturn will be to the north of Venus.

Mars is still in the western sky, low on the horizon after sunset and getting lower with each passing day. Mercury is doing the opposite—it is low on the western horizon after sunset but rising higher each night. It will appear close to Mars in the second half of the month.

The giant planet Jupiter is high and bright in the northern sky during November evenings. If you have a telescope and know exactly where to look, you’ll be able to spot the seventh planet, Uranus, nearby to Jupiter. Unfortunately, for most observers it is too dim to be seen with the naked eye.

The Leonid meteor shower will make its once-a-year appearance again this month, with the possibility of meteors being seen over about a one-week span in the middle of the month. The best date to try and see them will the 18th.

Except where indicated, all of the phenomena described here can be seen with just the unaided eye.

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.

Amateur telescopes pointed at the sky

An astronomy club is a great place to learn more about the night sky. Check out the list of clubs by clicking on the Links button at the top of the page.

November 4

The Moon will be at perigee today, which is the closest point in its orbit around the Earth. The distance between Earth and Moon will be 364,189 kilometres.

November 6

It’s New Moon today.

November 7

The thin crescent Moon will appear close to Mercury. You might have difficulty seeing them if there are buildings, trees, hills etc in the way. Assuming you do have a clear horizon, you might even need a pair of binoculars to spot them, as they’ll be very low on the western horizon.

November 8

Watch for the Moon next to Mars.

November 14

It’s First Quarter Moon today, which is halfway between New Moon and Full Moon. And take a look into the western sky after sunset, and low down near the horizon you’ll see Mars next to the red supergiant stars Antares in the constellation Scorpius. Compare the colour and brightness of Mars and Antares—Antares means “rival of Mars”.

November 15

The Moon will be at apogee today, which is the farthest point in its orbit around the Earth. The distance between Earth and Moon will be 404,634 kilometres.

November 16

Watch for the Moon near to the giant planet Jupiter tonight, high in the northern half of the sky.

November 17

There’ll be an interesting grouping low in the western sky tonight after sunset, with Mercury sitting between Mars and Antares.

Meteor in the night sky

A meteor flashes across the night sky. The Leonid meteor shower is predicted to reach its annual maximum in the early morning hours of November 18.

November 18

The early hours of this morning will probably be your best bet to see some of the Leonid meteor shower meteors. You’ll have to be an early riser, as the best time to see them will be after 4:00am. Look to the north-east, about halfway up from the horizon. From a very dark location, you might expect to see about 20 meteors per hour. If you live in a light-polluted town or city, you can expect to see fewer.

Leonid meteors are pieces of tiny dust and debris left in the trail of a comet called Tempel-Tuttle (after its two discoverers). Floating through space, they run into Earth’s atmosphere at a huge speed (around 70 kilometres per second!), so it’s no wonder they put on a light show as they disintegrate in the upper atmosphere.

November 19

Watch for Mars and Mercury near to each other tonight, low down on the western horizon after sunset.

November 21

It’s Full Moon today. Have a look and see if you can see a faint star cluster near to the Moon. This is the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, a pretty grouping of stars in the constellation Taurus.

November 29

It’s Last Quarter Moon today, which is halfway between Full Moon and New Moon. Take a look at the Moon, and nearby you’ll see a fairly bright, bluish-coloured star. This is Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo.

If you have any questions or comments on the night sky, please use the feedback form below. Happy stargazing!

Images courtesy IAU.

Get SpaceInfo.com.au daily updates by RSS or email! Click the RSS Feed link at the top right-hand corner of this page, and then save the RSS Feed page to your bookmarks. Or, enter your email address (privacy assured) and we’ll send you daily updates. Or follow us on Twitter, @spaceinfo_oz

Planetary line-up this week

Diagram of a planetary line-up May 19-22.

Diagram of the planetary line-up May 19-22, as seen from the perspective of an observer in the United States.

  • Moon, two planets & star line up
  • Happens from May 19-22
  • Easy to see – don’t need a telescope

The bright star Regulus joins the Moon and the planet Mars to form a beautiful lineup high in the southern sky (for US observers; in the northern sky for S. Hemisphere observers) at nightfall May 19-22, according to the editors of the University of Texas’ StarDate magazine.

And the best part of this stargazing spectacle is that you won’t need a telescope or binoculars to enjoy it. All you need is your eyes and a clear sky!

Starting on May 19, Mars will be in good view above the Moon as night falls. Regulus shines to the left of Mars, slightly higher. Regulus is the brightest star of Leo, the lion, and is more massive, hotter, and brighter than the Sun. Mars looks like a bright orange star.

On May 20, Regulus will be a little to the upper right of the first-quarter Moon, with bright orange Mars farther to the Moon’s right. The trio will form a wide, skinny triangle. They will be high in the sky at nightfall, and drop from view by around 2:00am

On May 21, the Moon will lie between Saturn (due south) and Mars (in the southwest) at nightfall. Saturn looks like a bright golden star.

By May 22, the Moon shines below Saturn, high in the south at sunset.

Adapted from information issued by StarDate magazine.

Moon, two planets & star line up

Happens from May 19-22

Easy to see – don’t need a telescope

The bright star Regulus joins the Moon and the planet Mars to form a beautiful lineup high in the southern sky (for US observers; in the northern sky for S. Hemisphere observers) at nightfall May 19-22, according to the editors of the University of Texas’ StarDate magazine.

And the best part of this stargazing spectacle is that you won’t need a telescope or binoculars to enjoy it. All you need is your eyes and a clear sky!

Starting on May 19, Mars will be in good view above the Moon as night falls. Regulus shines to the left of Mars, slightly higher. Regulus is the brightest star of Leo, the lion, and is more massive, hotter, and brighter than the Sun. Mars looks like a bright orange star.

On May 20, Regulus will be a little to the upper right of the first-quarter Moon, with bright orange Mars farther to the Moon’s right. The trio will form a wide, skinny triangle. They will be high in the sky at nightfall, and drop from view by around 2:00am

On May 21, the Moon will lie between Saturn (due south) and Mars (in the southwest) at nightfall. Saturn looks like a bright golden star.

By May 22, the Moon shines below Saturn, high in the south at sunset.

Adapted from information issued by StarDate magazine.