The Solar System in March 2015
All dates and times are NZDT (UT +13 hours) unless otherwise specified. Rise and set times are for Wellington. They will vary by a few minutes elsewhere in NZ.
Sunrise, Sunset and Twilight Times in March
March 1 March 31 morning evening morning evening rise: 6.58am, set: 8.07pm rise: 7.32am, set: 7.17pm Twilights Civil: starts: 6.33am, ends: 8.33pm starts: 7.07am, ends: 7.43pm Nautical: starts: 5.59am, ends: 9.07pm starts: 6.35am, ends: 8.15pm Astro: starts: 5.23am, ends: 9.42pm starts: 6.03am, ends: 8.47pm
March Phases of the Moon (times as shown by guide)
Full moon: March 6 at 7.05 am (Mar 5, 18:05 UT) Last quarter: March 14 at 6.48 am (Mar 13, 17:48 UT) New moon: March 20 at 10.36 pm ( 09:36 UT) First quarter: March 27 at 8.43 pm ( 07:43 UT)
The Planets in March
Venus and Mars remain early evening objects, setting soon after the Sun. Jupiter, just past opposition, will be prominent all evening, Saturn rises late to mid evening so will be visible low to the east an hour later. Mercury is an easy morning object in the first part of March.
MERCURY continues to be well placed for morning viewing before sunrise, during the first part of March. It rises more than 2 hours before the Sun on March 1st The planet will be 12° above the horizon in a direction a little to the south of east at the beginning of nautical twilight (Sun 12° below the horizon), about 6 am. At magnitude 0.0 the planet will be the brightest object low to the east.
Mercury starts March in Capricornus. As it moves to the east through the stars, it will pass the asteroid Vesta, magnitude 7.9, early in the month. The two are closest on the morning of March 5 when Vesta will be 50 arc-minutes to the upper right of Mercury. On that morning the star iota Cap, magnitude 4.3, will be 25 arc-minutes above Mercury with Vesta 40 arc minutes to the right of the star. They should be easy to pick up in binoculars while the sky is still nearly dark.
Mercury moves on into Aquarius on March 12 still rising 2 hours before the Sun and readily visible an hour before sunrise. A week later, on the morning of March 19, Mercury will rise only 100 minutes before the Sun, so making it lower in the morning sky at the equivalent time. The planet will be a little brighter at magnitude -0.3. On that morning Mercury will appear close to Neptune, the latter 1.6° to Mercury's left. At magnitude 8.0 Neptune will not be easy in binoculars. The moon will also be quite close, a very thin crescent some 5° to the two planets left and a little higher.
During the rest of the month Mercury will get lower in the morning sky. By the 31st it will rise less only 50 minutes before the Sun making it difficult to find even though now at magnitude -1.0.
VENUS and MARS, together with Uranus, are all quite close in the early evening sky. But they will be low. On the 1st, half an hour after sunset, at the end of civil twilight, Venus will be 7.5° above the horizon, at magnitude -4.0 easy to find. Mars, much fainter, magnitude 1.3, will be a 3° left of, and slightly lower than Venus. It will need binoculars to locate. Uranus, fainter still at 5.9, will be 4° to the right of Venus and a little higher. But it is not likely to be visible even in binoculars.
On the 1st Mars will set just an hour after the Sun, Venus about 10 minutes later and Uranus just over 10 minutes later again.
As the month progresses the two inner planets will move past Uranus. Venus will be closest to Uranus on the 4th and 5th. On the 4th it will be to the lower left of Uranus, on the 5th to its upper right, the separation of the two planets being just over half a degree, the diameter of the full moon, on both nights. Mars passes Uranus on the 11th and 12th and will be slightly closer to Uranus than Venus was. By then, Mars will set less than 1 hour after the Sun, making it a difficult object – Uranus just about impossible!
By the end of March, Mars will be setting only 45 minutes after the Sun, but Venus on the other hand will set nearly 90 minutes later than the Sun, as its elongation from the Sun increases.
On the 22nd the 5% lit crescent moon will be just under 5° to the upper right of Mars. The following night, now 12% lit, will be just over 5°to the upper right of Venus.
JUPITER will be easily visible to the northeast by the time Venus is lost to view. It will remain in the sky until well after midnight. The planet is in Cancer, moving slowly to the west through the stars, its westerly motion being due to the faster moving Earth overtaking it.
Jupiter motion in Cancer is towards the Praesepe cluster, By the end of March they will be some 5° apart. Their separation won't get much less as Jupiter reverses direction early in April when it starts moving to the east again.
The moon passes Jupiter twice in March. On the 3rd the nearly full moon will be 5° from Jupiter. On the 30th the moon coming round for a second time will be about half a degree closer. It will then be 78% lit.
Mutual Events of Jovian Satellites
There are about 27 mutual events of Jupiter's Galilean satellites observable from NZ during March. Now Jupiter is visible in the evening sky, some of these take place at a more convenient time. They include:
March 8, Ganymede occults Callisto mid event ca 10:38pm. The two merge about 10:20 and separate again about 10:55. March 14, Io eclipses Ganymede. Maximum ecl just after 9 pm Starts ca 8:50, ends ca 9:10, mag change 0.5 March 15, Europa occults Io mid event 9:24 pm merge ca 9:20, separate ca 9:28 March 27, Io eclipses Europa. Maximum eclipse ca 8:56 pm Starts ca 8:53, ends ca 8:59, mag change 1.0 Europa will be only 13” from Jupiter's limb March 31, Ganymede eclipses Europa. Maximum eclipse ca 10:22 pm Starts ca 10:18, end ca 10:26, mag change 0.5
Useful observations and timings of these events can be made by those set up for the video observation of minor planet occultations.
Users of Dave Herald's Occult program can generate their own predictions of these and other events. Hristo Pavlov's Occult Watcher programme will also list them and has diagrams showing the satellites relative to Jupiter. Details can also be found on the IMCCE web site, http://www.imcce.fr/phemu/ where predictions and requirements for observing and reporting information are available.
SATURN rises just before midnight on 1st March. By the 31st it will rise a little before 10 pm so getting abut 4 minutes earlier each night. The planet is in Scorpius and is stationary mid month. As a result the position of Saturn changes very little during the month. It will be less than 2° from the 2.6 magnitude double star beta Sco. The companion of beta has a magnitude 4.5 and is 14” from the brighter star. Binoculars will show up the star's double nature.
On the 12th the gibbous moon, 62% lit, will be 3.5° from Saturn, with the moon on the opposite side of Saturn to beta Sco. At midnight on the 12th, Saturn will be visible low in a directions a little south of east, having risen about an hour earlier.
At present Saturn's north pole is tilted 25° towards the Earth. This brings the northern surface of the rings well into view. They should be visible in binoculars, although a small telescope is likely to give a better view.
URANUS remains in Pisces in March, an evening object magnitude 5.9. It will set 80 minutes after the Sun on the 1st, but only 15 minutes later than the Sun on the 31st. So even at the beginning of the month it will be a difficult binocular object in the Sunset glow. The close approach of Venus on the 4th and 5th may make locating Uranus using binoculars easier
NEPTUNE was at conjunction with the Sun on February 26. It becomes a morning object in March. By the 31st it rises 2 hours before the Sun. The planet is in Aquarius at magnitude 8.
PLUTO is in Sagittarius rising near 2.30 am on the 1st and 2 hours earlier on the 31st. Its magnitude is 14.4
(1) Ceres is a morning object in Sagittarius with magnitude 9.2. On the 1st it will be just over 6° from Pluto and rise 4 minutes later. On the 31st Ceres crosses into Capricornus, it then rises about 1.20 am.
(3) Juno is an evening object in Cancer during March. It loses brightness steadily during the month as its distance from the Earth increases. Its magnitude ranges from 8.8 in the 1st to 9.6 on the 31st.
(4) Vesta is in Capricornus at the start of March. It moves into Aquarius on the 22nd. On the morning of the 16th it will be just over a quarter degree, half the diameter of the full moon, to the left of the star delta Cap, magnitude 2.9. This should make Vesta easy to locate in binoculars. About 6am would be a good time to look for the two. Don't confuse Vesta with an 8.8 magnitude star a little to its right.
(7) Iris is in Leo and at opposition at the beginning of the month. Its magnitude will then be 8.9. It moves into Sextans on the 7th, and fades to magnitude 9.5 by the 31st.
The follwing table lists various solar system object events during March. A list of astronomical terms used in may be found after the table.
|March 3||Jupiter 5.3 degrees north of the Moon|
|March 4||Regulus 3.8 degrees north of the Moon
Venus 0.1 degrees north of Uranus
|March 5||Moon at apogee
|March 9||Spica 3.3 degrees south of the Moon|
|March 11||Mars 0.3 degrees north of Uranus|
|March 12||Saturn 2.2 degrees south of the Moon|
|March 13||Moon last quarter|
|March 14||Moon southern most declination (-18.3 degrees)
|March 15||Pluto 3.1 degrees south of the Moon|
|March 18||Mercury 1.5 degrees south of Neptune
Neptune 3.5 degrees south of the Moon
|March 19||Mercury 4.9 degrees south of the Moon
Moon at perigee
|March 20||Moon new Eclipse
|March 21||Uranus 0.1 degrees south of the Moon Occn
Mars 0.9 degrees north of the Moon Occn
|March 22||Venus 2.8 degrees north of the Moon|
|March 25||Aldebaran 0.9 degrees south of the Moon Occn|
|March 26||Moon northern most declination (18.2 degrees)|
|March 27||Moon first quarter|
|March 30||Jupiter 5.4 degrees north of the Moon|
|March 31||Regulus 3.9 degrees north of the Moon|
- apogee: Furtherest point in the orbit of a body orbiting the Earth
- declination: 'Latitude' for celestial objects. The distance in degress above (north) or below (south) the celestial equator.
- perigee: Nearest point in the orbit of a body orbiting the Earth