WHAT’S UP IN THE SKY THIS MARCH 2018?

WHAT’S UP IN THE SKY THIS MARCH 2018?

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Winter is about to end soon! Wondering what’s going to be up in the sky for the new month? The following is a list of astronomical events for March 2018. All dates and times were given in UAE Local Time.

March 2, 2018: Full Moon

Situated on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun, the moon will be fully illuminated (100%) on this day. For selenophiles (people who love the moon), this is the best time to observe all the surface features of this celestial object, including the craters and maria. It will start appearing at around 6 PM (at the eastern horizon) as it rises, and can be seen throughout the night until sunrise positioned in Leo constellation. Because of its full illumination during this phase, it will not be a good time for deep-sky observation with the entire moonlight glaring out most of the faint celestial objects.

The Full Moon taken from Al Sadeem Observatory last December 3, 2017

March 7, 2018: Moon – Jupiter Close Approach

The Moon and the largest planet Jupiter will appear close to each other in the sky on the early morning hours of this day. It will be seen at the east-southeastern horizon from around 11:30 PM until sunrise. These celestial objects will be situated in the faint constellation Libra (the scales). The Waning Gibbous Moon will be about 4° north-northwest of Jupiter. Jupiter would look like a bright white “star”. This will be a good opportunity for selenophiles and planet gazers to observe and image the said celestial objects.

Illustration of the Moon-Jupiter Close Approach on March 7, 2018 at around 1 AM (not to scale) (Graphic Courtesy of Stellarium)

March 10, 2018: Moon – Mars Conjunction

The Moon and the red planet Mars will appear close to each other in the sky on the early morning hours of this day. It will be seen at the east-southeastern horizon from 2 AM until sunrise. These celestial objects will be situated in the constellation Ophiuchus (the serpent bearer). The Waning Crescent Moon will be about 3°48’ northwest of Mars. Mars would look like a bright reddish dot. Also seen nearby is Jupiter; appear as a bright white “star” situated a couple of degrees northeast of both Mars and Moon, and Saturn, come into view as a brilliant yellow-orange “star” situated few degrees southwest of both Moon and Mars. This will be a good opportunity for selenophiles and planet gazers to observe and image the said celestial objects.

Illustration of the Moon-Mars Conjunction on March 10, 2018, at around 3 AM (not to scale) (Graphic Courtesy of Stellarium)

March 11, 2018: Moon – Saturn Conjunction

The Moon and the ringed planet Saturn together will appear close to each other in the sky on the early morning hours of this day. It will be seen at the east-southeastern horizon from 3 AM until sunrise. All celestial objects will be situated in the constellation Sagittarius (the archer). The Waning Crescent Moon will be about 2°13’ northwest of Saturn. Saturn would look like a bright yellow-orange star. Also seen nearby are planets Mars and Jupiter situated much higher in the south-southeastern portion of the sky. This will be a good opportunity for selenophiles and planet gazers to observe and image the said celestial objects.

Illustration of the Moon-Saturn Conjunction on March 11, 2018 at around 5 AM (not to scale) (Graphic Courtesy of Stellarium)

March 15, 2018 – Mercury at Greatest Eastern Elongation

The smallest planet in the Solar System, Mercury will appear at its highest point just a few moments after sunset.  The maximum extent of angular separation from the Sun as seen from Earth will be at around 13° (in the UAE). This means Mercury can be only seen up to 13° above the western horizon after sunset, from 6:49 PM until it completely sets at 7:20 PM. Also visible nearly is Venus few degrees southwest of Mercury, appearing as a brighter white “star”. Though it is moderately bright, observing it will be quite of a challenge from the fact that Mercury is situated near the Sun in the sky.

Illustration of Mercury at Greatest Eastern Elongation (about 13° above the eastern horizon) just after sunset on March 15, 2018 (not to scale) (Image Credit: Stellarium)

March 17, 2018: New Moon

On this day, the moon will not be visible as it will be situated on the same side of the Earth as the Sun, in the constellation of Libra (the scales). With no moonlight glaring much of the night sky, this is the best time to observe the deep sky objects throughout the night. It is predicted that the lunar phase will occur on this day. However, the month transition from Djumada l-Akhira to Radjab shall take place one day later (March 18) in accordance with the Hijri Calendar 1439.

March 20, 2018 – March Equinox

On this day, the Earth’s axis is not tilted towards nor away from the Sun. This results in an approximately equal duration of day and night in all areas of the Earth (about 12 hours). During this period, the Sun lies perpendicular to the Earth’s equator, it will appear to rise and set exactly from due east and west respectively; while in the equator, the Sun will be directly overhead at noon. Known as vernal equinox, this marks the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and autumn/fall in the Southern Hemisphere. The March (Vernal) Equinox will exactly occur at 4:15 PM UTC when the Sun directly cross the celestial equator. After this day, daytime (nighttime) will gradually increase (decrease) in length for the Northern Hemisphere and the inverse occurs in the Southern Hemisphere as the Earth’s axis slowly inclines.

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

March 31, 2018: Full “Blue” Moon

Situated on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun, the moon will be fully illuminated (100%) on this day. For selenophiles (people who love the moon), this is the best time to observe all the surface features of this celestial object, including the craters and maria. It will start appearing at around 6:15 PM (at the eastern horizon) as it rises, and can be seen throughout the night until sunrise positioned in the faint constellation of Cancer (the crab). Because of its full illumination during this phase, it will not be a good time for deep-sky observation with the entire moonlight glaring out most of the faint celestial objects.

Also, This is the 2nd occurrence of the Full Moon in the same month, making it a “Blue Moon”, a colloquial term for this celestial event; coined from the notable phrase “Once in a Blue Moon” which is based in old folklore. The Full Moon will NOT turn blue in color during this celestial event.

True Color Full Moon taken from Al Sadeem Observatory last January 2, 2018

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In the UAE and other regions in the Northern Hemisphere, March marks the end of winter and beginning of spring. Many brilliant prominent winter constellations and deep-sky objects will be seen during night time and early morning hours such as the nebulae in Orion constellation (Great Orion, Flame, and Horsehead) and the brilliant open star cluster Pleiades known as the “Seven Sisters” in Taurus, and the Ursa Major galaxies, Bode and Cigar galaxies. Also, notable star patterns like the Winter Triangle and Winter Hexagon can be seen.

Pleiades, The Orion, Flame, and Horsehead Nebulae, and the Bode and Cigar Galaxies taken from Al Sadeem Observatory

Pleiades (Top Left), The Orion, Flame, and Horsehead Nebulae (Top Right), and the Bode and Cigar Galaxies taken from Al Sadeem Observatory

The faint blue planet Uranus will appear in the western section of the sky from sunset until about 9:30 PM. Planets Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn will be visible in the early morning hours after until sunrise. The other ones, Mercury, Venus, and Neptune are either barely or not visible few minutes before sunrise, depending on their respective apparent positions in the sky. For this month, sunrise occurrences range between 6:15 AM and 6:45 AM while sunsets shall happen between 6:24 PM and 6:38 PM.

Have a warm and pleasant March, everyone! Clear skies!

References

Astronomy Calendar of Celestial Events 2018. (n.d.). Retrieved from Sea and Sky: www.seasky.org/astronomy/astronomy-calendar-2018.html

Calendar of Astronomical Events. (n.d.). Retrieved from In-The-Sky.org: http://in-the-sky.org/newscal.php?year=2018&month=1&maxdiff=4 #datesel

Islamic calendar 2018. (n.d.). Retrieved from Calendar.sk: https://calendar.zoznam.sk/islamic_calendar-en.php?ly=2018

Sunrise and sunset times in Abu Dhabi, March 2018. (n.d.). Retrieved from timeanddate.com: https://www.timeanddate.com/sun/united-arab-emirates/abu-dhabi?month=3&year=2018

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