March Moon & Planet data for 2015


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.

Outer Planets

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

Brighter Asteroids:

(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
Moon full
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)
Saturn stationary
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
Equinox
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

Feburary Moon & Planet data for 2015


The Solar System in February 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 February

                     February  1                      February 28       
                  morning  evening                 morning  evening     
          rise:   6.23am,  set:  8.44pm    rise:   6.57am,  set:  8.08pm
Twilights                                                               
Civil:    starts: 5.55am,  ends: 9.13pm    starts: 6.31am,  ends: 8.35pm
Nautical: starts: 5.17am,  ends: 9.51pm    starts: 5.57am,  ends: 9.09pm
Astro:    starts: 4.35am,  ends:10.32pm    starts: 5.22am,  ends: 9.44pm

February Phases of the Moon (times as shown by guide)

Full moon:     February  4 at 12.09 pm (Feb  3, 23:09 UT)
Last quarter:  February 12 at  4.50 pm (        03:50 UT)
New moon:      February 19 at 12.47 pm (Feb 18, 23:47 UT)
First quarter: February 26 at  6.14 am (Feb 25, 17:14 UT)

The Planets in February

Venus and Mars are close together and visible for a short time after sunset. Jupiter reaches opposition and is visible most of the night but Saturn is only visible in the morning sky although it rises just before midnight by the end of February. Mercury moves rapidly up into the morning sky to become easily visible an hour before sunrise in the second half of the month.

MERCURY was at inferior conjunction with the Sun on January 30 so it starts February much too close to the Sun to observe. It subsequently moves rapidly into the morning sky, rising 45 minutes before the Sun on the 6th and nearly 100 minutes earlier a week later. On the 13th at 5.40 am, an hour before sunrise, Mercury at magnitude 0.6 will be some 7° above the horizon, easily the brightest low object a little to the south of west.

From the 17th and on into early March, Mercury will rise more than 2 hours before the Sun and it will the planet will gradually brighten a little. On the 28th Mercury will be more than 12° above the horizon an hour before sunrise, making it an easy morning object with a magnitude 0.1. This will be the best morning appearance of Mercury for the year for the southern hemisphere.

VENUS and MARS become a pair of early evening planets during February. On the 1st, Venus is 9.5° left of Mars. Both planets start February in Aquarius. Both move into Pisces during the month with Venus closing in on Mars. On the 22nd, they are at their closest with Venus less than half a degree above Mars. Their brightness contrast will be extreme, Venus more than 100 times brighter than Mars.

The previous evening, when the two planets will be only slightly further apart, the moon as a fine crescent will be 4.5° to their right. By February 28 Venus will be nearly 3° ahead of Mars.

The two planets set a little over an hour after the Sun throughout February. On the 1st Mars almost 90 minutes later, Venus 68 minutes later. On the 28th Mars will set first, 63 minutes after the Sun, while Venus sets 8 minutes later (as seen from Wellington).

JUPITER is at opposition on February 7. Thus it will be visible most of the night, although low to the northeast early evening, particularly at the beginning of the month. At opposition, Jupiter will be 650 million km, 4.35 AU, from the Earth and 5.33 AU from the Sun.

The planet starts February in Leo. During February it moves to the west (that is in a retrograde sense) and into Cancer on the 4th. Early that evening the full moon will be some 4.5° to the upper right of the planet. By midnight the sky will have rotated to bring the moon almost directly above Jupiter, its distance increasing to 5°.

Mutual Events of Jovian Satellites

There are about 16 mutual events of Jupiter's Galilean satellites observable from NZ during February. The events involve either occultations or eclipses of one satellite by another. Visually, mutual occultations are the more interesting to watch as satellites can be seen to merge and separate over a period several minutes. Eclipses are normally partial events with fairly small magnitude changes of the eclipsed satellite. Consequently they are mostly difficult to detect visually. Total eclipses are rare.

Useful observations and timings of both types of event can be made by those set up for the video observation of minor planet occultations.

For more details refer to the IMCCE web site, <http://www.imcce.fr/phemu/> where predictions and requirements for observing and reporting information are available. Users of Dave Herald's Occult program can generate their own predictions.

SATURN remains a morning object throughout February. On the 1st it rises close to 1.30 am, by the end of the month a few minutes before midnight. The planet will be in Scorpius near the close double star beta Sco, magnitude 2.6. Saturn will be about 9° from Antares.

On the morning of the 13th, the moon, just past last quarter, will be 4.5° to the left of Saturn as seen in the early dawn sky.

During February Saturn's north pole is tilted almost 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.

Outer Planets

URANUS remains in Pisces as an evening object magnitude 5.9. By the end of February it will set at 8.30pm, so less than 90 minutes after the Sun and low in the fading twilight.

NEPTUNE is within a degree of Venus on the 1st so will be low in the twilit sky. Despite being close to Venus, Neptune, magnitude 8.0, is likely to be difficult to see in binoculars due to twilight. Neptune is at conjunction with the Sun on the 26th. It will then be 4.63 billion km, almost 31 AU, from the Earth and 30 AU beyond the Sun.

PLUTO is in Sagittarius and rises more than 4 hours before the Sun by the 28th. Its magnitude is 14.4

Brighter Asteroids:

(1) Ceres is a morning object in Sagittarius with magnitude 9.2. By the end of the month it will rise over 4 hours before the Sun.

(3) Juno starts February in Hydra. It moves into Cancer on the 16th. This places it in the evening sky, although it doesn't set until several hours after midnight. Its brightness fades during the month from magnitude 8.2 to 8.9

(4) Vesta moves further into the morning sky following conjunction. It rises less than an hour before the Sun on the 1st, two hours before it on the 28th. The asteroid is in Capricornus, at magnitude 8.

(7) Iris and (8) Flora are both in Leo, but at opposite sides of the constellation, nearly 30° apart. Iris's magnitude varies from 9.5 to 9.0, Flora's at its brightest is 9.1 when at opposition on the 17th. Iris doesn't reach opposition until early March.

Brian Loader


The follwing table lists various solar system object events during February. A list of astronomical terms used in may be found after the table.

February 1 Venus 0.8 degrees south of Neptune
February 3 Moon full
February 4 Jupiter 5.0 degrees north of the Moon
February 5 Regulus 3.8 degrees north of the Moon
February 6 Moon at apogee
Jupiter at opposition
February 9 Spica 3.2 degrees south of the Moon
February 11 Mercury stationary
February 12 Moon last quarter
February 13 Saturn 2.1 degrees south of the Moon
February 14 Moon southern most declination (-18.4 degrees)
February 15 Pluto 3.0 degrees south of the Moon
February 17 Mercury 3.4 degrees south of the Moon
February 18 Moon new
February 19 Moon at perigee
Neptune 3.6 degrees south of the Moon
February 20 Venus 2.0 degrees south of the Moon
February 21 Mars 1.5 degrees south of the Moon
Uranus 0.3 degrees south of the Moon Occn
February 22 Venus 0.4 degrees south of Mars
February 24 Mercury greatest elong W(27)
February 25 Moon first quarter
Aldebaran 1.0 degrees south of the Moon Occn
February 26 Neptune at conjunction
February 27 Moon northern most declination (18.3 degrees)
  • apogee: Furtherest point in the orbit of a body orbiting the Earth
  • conjunction: Two astronomical objects are 'lined up' (have the same right ascension) when viewed from Earth. If only one object is mentioned the Sun is generally the other object.
  • 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