ASTRONOMY GUIDE TO THE NIGHT SKY – March 2022
With the Newbury Astronomical Society
The chart above shows the night sky at 21:00 on 15th March 2022
Click on the chart to enlarge and click to the side of the chart to close
The chart above shows the night sky looking south at about 22:00 GMT on 15th March. West is to the right and east to the left. The point in the sky directly overhead is known as the Zenith and is shown (in red) at the upper centre of the chart. The curved brown line across the sky at the bottom is the Ecliptic or Zodiac. This is the imaginary line along which the Sun, Moon and planets appear to move across the sky. The brightest stars often appear to form a group or recognisable pattern; we call these ‘Constellations’.
Constellations through which the ecliptic passes this month are: Aquarius (the Water Carrier) just off the right of the chart, Pisces (the Fishes), Aries (the Ram), Taurus (the Bull), Gemini (the Twins), Cancer (the Crab), Leo (the Lion) and Virgo (the virgin) just coming into view.
In the southern sky is the constellation of Taurus (the Bull). The most obvious star in Taurus is the lovely Red Giant Star called Aldebaran. It appears slightly orange to the ‘naked eye’ but it is very obviously orange when seen using binoculars or a telescope. Aldebaran is located at the centre of the ‘flattened’ X shape formed by the brightest stars in Taurus. At the end of the top right (upper west) arm of the ‘X’ is the beautiful ‘naked eye’ Open Star Cluster called Messier 45 (M45) also known as the Pleiades (or the Seven Sisters). It really does look magnificent using binoculars.
Following Taurus is the constellation of Gemini (the Twins). The two brightest stars in Gemini are Castor and Pollux and they are named after mythological twins. To the north of Taurus is the odd pentagon shape of Auriga (the Charioteer). Dominating Auriga is the brilliant white star Capella which is almost directly overhead. For those with a telescope there is a line of lovely open clusters to search out in Taurus and Auriga. These are M35 in Taurus and M36, M37 and M38 in Auriga.
To the south of Taurus is the winter constellation of Orion (the Hunter) that dominates the southern night sky. Orion is easily found by looking for the very obvious three stars of his belt. As he is so easy to find it is a good place to start exploring the sky. Orion has his Hunting Dogs Sirius (the big dog) and Procyon (the little dog) to the east (left) and following him. Orion was featured as constellation of the month in the January Beginners Magazine.
To the east (right) of Taurus is the rather indistinct constellation of Cancer (the Crab). The stars of Cancer are quite faint and can be difficult to discern especially in a light polluted sky. It is really worth searching out Cancer using binoculars or a telescope to see the Open Cluster M44 (the Beehive Cluster). M44 is older and further away than M45 (the Seven Sisters) so is fainter than M45 but still looks lovely. It has a group of stars that resemble an old straw Beehive with bees around it.
The constellation of Leo (the Lion) follows Cancer along the Ecliptic and will be the constellation of the month next month. It does actually look a little like a lion or the Sphinx in Egypt. Around and between Leo and the neighboring constellation of Virgo is a cluster of galaxies. Our Milky Way galaxy and our local group of galaxies are members of this larger group of galaxies called the Virgo Cluster. A medium sized telescope (150mm to 200mm) and a dark sky is required to see these faint objects.
The Spring Equinox (also called Venal) occurs on 20th March. This means we are half way to summer. British Summer Time (BST) begins on 27th March.
Where to find the planets this month
All the planets, except Uranus are either in or are moving into the early morning sky.
Mercury will be difficult to see low in the east and moving into conjunction on 2nd April.
Venus is very bright in the eastern sky before sunrise and will be at its greatest westerly elongation (furthest from the Sun) on 20th March.
Mars is still close to the Sun and appears very small as it is on the other side of the Sun.
Jupiter will be in conjunction with the Sun on 5th March so will not be observable.
Saturn was in conjunction with the Sun on 4th February so will be difficult to see.
Uranus can be found in the south east in the early evening but really needs a telescope.
Neptune will be in conjunction with the Sun on 15th March so will not be observable.
Follow this link to see the full ‘Monthly What’s Up’ guide to the night sky:
To see a full version of this article and a guide to the night sky with charts, read the Newbury Astronomical Society (NAS) – Monthly Magazines for Beginners on the Beginners website at: www.naasbeginners.co.uk.