The Sky Above You – March 2023
By Duncan Lunan
The Moon will be Full on March 7th, and it will be New on March 21st, the day after the spring equinox on March 20th. The Moon is between Venus and Jupiter on the 23rd, passing Venus on the 24th and Mars on the 28th. British Summer Time starts on March 26th, on which the Moon will pass close to the Pleiades during the day, visible below them on the evening of the 25th and above them 24 hours later.
According to my regular sources (Nigel Henbest’s Stargazing 2023 and the 2023 Guide to the Night Sky by Storm Dunlop and Wil Tirion), the planet Mercury is not visible this month, at superior conjunction beyond the Sun on March 17th. However the March 2023 issue of Astronomy Now predicts that it will be visible in the evening sky from the 23rd onwards, and close to Jupiter on the 27th, while warning to be sure the Sun has gone down before searching for them close to the horizon.
Venus is very bright now in the evening sky, very close to Jupiter on March 1st. By February 24th the conjunction was already spectacular, with the crescent Moon having passed between them and risen above. Venus is below the Moon again on March 23rd and 24th, and is occulted by the Moon on the 24th, as seen from southeast Asia and the Philippines. Venus passes above Uranus in Aries on March 31st, setting at 11.00 p.m. at the end of the month.
Mars is still in Taurus, growing fainter as it moves into Gemini, setting about 2.30 a.m. and passed by the Moon on the 28th. Mars will be close to the Open Cluster M35 in Gemini at the end of the month.
Ceres, the largest of the asteroids, is at its closest to us on March 21st, while passing through the constellation Coma Berenices and the Virgo Cluster of galaxies. Ceres will pass the M91 galaxy on March 10th -11th, and will cross the spiral arms of M100 on the night of March 26th -27th.
At the other end of the scale, on November 2nd NASA’s outbound Lucy probe will pass within photographic range of the small, newly discovered Main Belt asteroid 152830, which has been named ‘Dinkinesh’ (‘you are marvellous’, in the Aramaic spoken in Ethiopia). At 0.4 miles in diameter, the asteroid is actually slightly larger than Bennu, the Near-Earth Asteroid from which the OSIRIS-REX probe is now bringing back samples, for delivery to Earth on September 23rd this year. One of Lucy’s large solar panels is still only 98% open, and attempts to latch it have ceased now that the spacecraft is so far from the Sun, but it’s thought that it will be able to complete powered flybys of Jupiter’s Trojan families of asteroids..
Jupiter sets at 8.30 p.m. in March, near Venus on the 1st and at their closest on March 2nd. On the 24th Jupiter is occulted by the Moon, as seen from the north of South America and the Caribbean. It will be close to the right of Jupiter on the 28th, before disappearing behind the Sun by the end of the month.
There’s interesting news from Jupiter’s moons: the James Webb Space Telescope, the Keck telescope on Hawaii and others have obtained new data on Io's aurora (long known), and confirmed that Europa, Ganymede and Callisto have aurorae as well. They're being explained as the product of interaction with Jupiter's magnetic field, which rotates faster than the orbital speeds of all four. But since Callisto is the only one outside Jupiter's radiation belts, does this mean it too has subsurface water, like Europa and Ganymede? With JUICE, the JUpiter ICy moons Explorer, scheduled to launch on April 14th, maybe we'll know in 8 years or so when it reaches its destinations.
Saturn in Capricornus is not visible this month and passes Mercury on March 2nd. It will be in the morning sky by the end of March, but not visible from the UK.
Uranus in Aries sets at 11.30 p.m., passed by the Moon on the 25th and near Venus late in the month (closest on March 30th and 31st).
Neptune is out of the sight this month, on the far side of the Sun, at conjunction on March 16th.
I tried four times to see the green Comet 2022 E3 as it came down through Draco in late January and early February, but the sky here was too hazy. My colleague Alan Cayless saw it from Bridge of Allan, but only as a smudge too faint to photograph. Its 50,000-year orbit is so close to Solar System escape that after this passage among the inner planets, it may never be back.
Duncan Lunan’s recent books are available through Amazon. For more information see Duncan’s website www.duncanlunan.com
The Sky Above You
By Duncan Lunan
About this Column
I began writing this column in early 1983 at the suggestion of the late Chris Boyce. At that time the Post Office would allow 1000 free mailings to start a new business, just under the number of small press newspapers in the UK at the time. I printed a flyer with the help of John Braithwaite (of Braithwaite Telescopes) offering a three-part column for £5, with the sky this month, a series of articles for beginners, and a monthly news feature. The column ran from May 1983 to May 1993 in various newspapers and magazines, but never in more than five outlets at a time, although every one of those 1000-plus papers would have included an astrology column. Since then it’s appeared sporadically in a range of publications including The Southsider in Glasgow and the Dalyan Courier in Turkey, but most often, normally three times per year, in Jeff Hawke’s Cosmos from the first issue in March 2003 until the last in January 2018. It continues to appear monthly in Troon's Going Out and Orkney News. Enquries from other outlets welcomed!
The monthly maps for the column were drawn for me by Jim Barker, based on similar, uncredited ones in Dr. Leon Hausman’s “Astronomy Handbook” (Fawcett Publications, 1956). Jim had to redraw or elongate several of them because they were drawn for mid-US latitudes, about 40 degrees North, making them usable over most of the northern hemisphere. The biggest change needed was in November when only Dubhe, Merak and Megrez of the Big Dipper, as the US version called it, were visible at that latitude. In the UK, all the stars of the Plough are circumpolar, always above the horizon. We decided to keep an insert in the January map showing the position of M42, the Great Nebula in the Sword of Orion, and for that reason, to stick with the set time of 9 p.m., (10 p.m. BST in summer), although in Scotland the sky isn’t dark then during June and July.
To use the maps in theory you should hold them overhead, aligning the North edge to true north, marked by Polaris and indicated by Dubhe and Merak, the Pointers. It’s more practical to hold the map in front of you when looking south and then rotate it as you face east, south and west. Some readers are confused because east is on the left, opposite to terrestrial maps, but that’s because they’re the other way up. When you’re facing south and looking at the sky, east is on your left.
The star patterns are the same for each month of each year, and only the positions of the planets change. (“Astronomy Handbook” accidentally shows Saturn in Virgo during May, showing that the maps weren’t originally drawn for the Hausman book.) Consequently regular readers for a year will by then have built up a complete set of twelve.