18th October 2018
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Stargazing: What to see and look out for up above in March

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March is the month of changes. The first change occurs at 5.32pm on the 20th and is the Vernal Equinox when the Sun comes north of the equator in the sky.

Nights become shorter so you have to stay up later to see the stars and eventually we get the consolation of the Simmer Dim – even if astronomy is difficult at that time.

The second change occurs on the morning of the 28th when the clocks are put forward by an hour. The darkest part of the night is then at one o’clock in the morning local time, so again you have to stay up later if you want to view the night sky.

New moon is on the 15th and full moon is on the 30th.

Evening – sunset to 9pm

The moon will be out of the way for deep sky observers between the 1st and the 17th.

After the middle of the month Venus will start to appear very low in the western skies. Month on month it will climb higher in the sky.

Over the last four days of the month Mercury will be in the sky below Venus. Start working out where they are in the sunset sky so that in April you can easily find them as they climb a little higher in the sky.

In the south is Mars. While you may see very little unless you have a three-inch or larger telescope, it is wonderful to watch it over several nights and see that it moves against the stars of the night sky.

Night – 9pm to 1am

The moon will be out of the way for deep sky observers between the 6th to 20th.

As Mars moves to the west Saturn will be in the south. Saturn is at opposition on the 21st and therefore reasonably bright.

Binoculars will just show that the planet does have something sticking out either side and the rings should become more visible as you use a spotting scope and then a small astronomical telescope.

Morning – 1am to sunrise

The moon will be out of the way for deep sky observers between the 8th the the 23rd.

Mars will be in the north west and Saturn over in the west. Due south will be the constellation Bootes and to the left Corona and Hercules and in the constellation of Hercules is the globular cluster of M13.

If you are up early in the morning and the sky is clear then do nip outside for a few minutes to see the constellations that are hidden in the evening Simmer Dim.

There are some small meteor showers in March and as usual a night out under a clear sky will reward you with some shooting stars.

If you want to see the International Space Station the second and third weeks have early evening showings. As always go to the Heavens Above website for accurate timings.

A couple of years ago I asked where are the darkest skies in Shetland? Where is the light pollution so small that the Zodiacal Light should be visible?

Well nobody contacted me, but I can say that Shetland skies can be very dark. During February I was out at the time of the new moon. I was looking at the Milky Way coming down to the north western horizon when I was aware of a glow to my left.

Looking over that way I couldn’t really see anything, but with averted vision – were you look off to the side of an object to allow the more light sensitive part of the eye to collect the light – I could definitely see a glow. Well I photographed it and sent the image off to the Atmospheric Optics website. For the first time in my life I had seen the Zodiacal Light. Look at www.atoptics.co.uk/fz384.htm So what is this Zodiacal Light? Across the plane of our Solar System, called the ecliptic, is a sheet of interplanetary dust formed by collisions over millions of years.

As the sun sets this dust reflects the sunlight but it is very very faint. If you see it the sky is dark and clear.

The best times to see it are when the ecliptic is vertical to the horizon before sunrise or after sunset and that occurs around the time of the equinoxes. For this month of March then the first two weeks will be best – just use your averted vision to the left of the Milky Way in the evening.

Clear skies.

Chris Brown