MARCH 2020 AL SADEEM SKY-LENDAR: Period of galaxy hunting begins; Spring equinox signals change of season

MARCH 2020 AL SADEEM SKY-LENDAR: Period of galaxy hunting begins; Spring equinox signals change of season

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March is one of the most exhilarating parts of the year when the night sky goes in “full bloom”—amateur astronomers and experienced stargazers enjoy a feast of Messier objects and a slew of planets around the Moon spicing up the United Arab Emirates’ cool spring nights.

With the aid of binoculars and telescopes, galaxies such as the Bode and Cigar in the constellation Ursa Major, nebulae like the Flame and Horsehead, and the Leo Triplet—can all be spotted in a clear, cloudless, and dark sky.

Meanwhile, constellations like the Orion and the brilliant open star cluster Pleiades known as the “Seven Sisters” in Taurus constellation that can be seen with the naked eye will be a perpetual treat to skywatchers as the nights progress.

Bode & Cigar Galaxies, Flame, Horsehead & Orion Nebula, Leo Triplet Galaxies (Image Credit: Aldrin B. Gabuya/Thabet Al Qaissieh/Al Sadeem Astronomy)

The Spring Equinox

Longer days are bound to take place again for us in the Northern Hemisphere, once the Earth’s axis changes on March 20. On this day, our planet is not tilted towards nor away from the Sun, resulting in an approximately equal duration of day and night in all areas of the Earth. This is called the equinox—marking the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere (where the UAE is located), and autumn in the Southern Hemisphere.

This also means longer nights for those in the Southern Hemisphere. Expect the Sun to up here in the UAE as early as 6:15 AM—with the latest rise at 6:45 AM—and to set between 6:24 PM and 6:38 PM.

Diagram illustrating Earth’s Orientation during the March Equinox (Image Credit: eclipsegeeks.com)

Satellite Imagery of Earth at March Equinox (Image Credit: EUMETSAT)

Supermoon

Another supermoon will grace the night sky this month on March 9, which occurs when the Moon is in its full phase and at its perigee—or its closest distance to the Earth.

But it’s not necessarily “super.” In fact, the Moon is only approximately 7% bigger and 16% brighter than its usual form as seen from the Earth. A supermoon is actually an astrological term. Scientifically, it’s called a full Moon at perigee, but since it’s wordy, people opt for the term supermoon instead.

Because of the Moon’s brightness, it will not be a good time for deep-sky observation. Wait until March 24, when the Moon is in its New phase. Since there will be no Moon up in the sky, it’s a perfect time to hunt down the Messier objects you’re been dying to take pictures of.

Meanwhile, the month transition from Radjab to Shaban shall take place two days later (March 26) in accordance with the Hijri Calendar 1441.

The Full Moon taken from Al Sadeem Observatory last February 8, 2020 (Image Credit: Al Sadeem Astronomy)

A comparison of ordinary full Moon with a Supermoon, or a full Moon at perigee (Image Credit: Aldrin Gabuya/Al Sadeem Astronomy).

Moon-planet, Planet-planet Pairings

On March 9, the planets Venus and Uranus pair will be visible above the western horizon around 7:15 PM until the pair sets at 9:15 PM. While Venus is a lustrous gem in the night, Uranus will need a little bit of help from large telescopes (at least 11” and larger) for it to shine.

Illustrated view of the Venus-Uranus Conjunction on March 9, 2020 at around 7 PM (not to scale) (Graphic Courtesy of Stellarium)

On March 18, the Red Planet will be spotted near the Moon. Expect to see the Mars-Moon conjunction at the east-southeastern horizon beginning at 3:30 AM until sunrise. Planets Jupiter and Saturn will trail behind Mars as it skirts around the Earth’s Waning Crescent Moon.

Illustration of the Moon-Mars Conjunction on March 18, 2020 at around 4 AM (not to scale) (Graphic Courtesy of Stellarium)

A day later, on March 19, the Waning Crescent Moon and the ringed planet Saturn will also appear close to each other at the east-southeastern horizon of the sky in the early morning hours, at around 4 AM until sunrise.

Illustration of the Moon-Saturn Conjunction on March 19, 2020 at around 4:30 AM (not to scale) (Graphic Courtesy of Stellarium)

Another planet pairing will appear on March 20, when neighbors Mars and Jupiter rise up in the night sky at the south-eastern portion of the horizon, beginning twenty minutes to three in the morning. They won’t be close enough to fit in the field of view of a telescope though, but can definitely be seen just fine with the naked eye.

Illustration of the Mars-Jupiter Conjunction on March 20, 2020 at around 5 AM (not to scale) (Graphic Courtesy of Stellarium)

On March 23, the red planet Mars and dwarf planet Pluto will be in a tight conjunction, which will be visible in the early morning hours—from 3:30 AM until sunrise. A large-aperture telescope and most likely long exposure photography are necessary to be able to see the planetary conjunction.

Telescope view (illustrated) from a 14-inch SCT and 25mm eyepiece of the Venus-Uranus Conjunction on March 23, 2020 (not to scale) (Graphic Courtesy of Stellarium)

Finally, on March 28, at the western horizon of the sky, the Waxing Crescent Moon and the brilliant “evening star” Venus will appear close to each other right after sunset, precisely from 6:30 PM to 9:15 PM.

Illustration of the Moon-Venus Conjunction on March 28, 2020, at around 4 AM (not to scale) (Graphic Courtesy of Stellarium)

Planetary Elongations

A planetary elongation is basically the angle of direction to the Sun and the direction to a planet as observed from the Earth. And there will be two elongations happening on March 24.

At dawn, the smallest planet Mercury will be on its greatest western elongation. It can be observed at 11° above the eastern horizon until it fades into view at sunrise. While it’s moderately bright, observing Mercury will be quite difficult due to its close proximity to the Sun in the sky.

Illustration of Mercury at Greatest Western Elongation on March 24, 2020, at around 6 AM (not to scale) (Graphic Courtesy of Stellarium)

Meanwhile, beginning at 6:30 P.M., the bright “evening star” planet Venus will be on its greatest eastern elongation. Expect the planet to be visible at 47° above the western horizon until it sets at around 9:30 P.M.

Illustration of Venus at Greatest Eastern Elongation on March 24, 2020, at around 6:45 PM (not to scale) (Graphic Courtesy of Stellarium)

REFERENCES

Astronomy Calendar of Celestial Events 2020. (n.d.). Retrieved from Sea and Sky: www.seasky.org/astronomy/astronomy-calendar-2020.html

Calendar of Astronomical Events. (n.d.). Retrieved from In-The-Sky.org: http://in-the-sky.org/newscal.php?year=2020&month=3&maxdiff=4#datesel

Islamic calendar 2020. (n.d.). Retrieved from Calendar.sk: https://calendar.zoznam.sk/islamic_calendar-en.php?ly=2020

Sunrise and sunset times in Abu Dhabi, March 2020. (n.d.). Retrieved from timeanddate.com: https://www.timeanddate.com/sun/united-arab-emirates/abu-dhabi?month=3&year=2020

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