PLEASE NOTE THE BELOW SUMMARY AND GUIDE IS FOR AN APPROXIMATE LATITUDE OF 55 DEGREES NORTH
(Please note all times are UT unless otherwise stated and are based on an observing location of Belfast and covers the month of March)
At the start of the month, the Sun rises at 07:15 and sets at 18:00. By month’s end, it rises at 07:00 ST and sets at 20:00 ST. Summer-Time begins at 01:00 UT on the morning of the 31st with the clocks going forward one hour.
Mercury is at greatest eastern elongation on the 24th and has its best evening display for 2024 during the month. It is visible after sunset from the 2nd week of the month and by month’s end it sets at 21:35 ST when it is mag +1.4 and in Pisces. On the 24th, it sets almost 2 hours after sunset at 20:35 and is mag -0.1.
Venus is not visible this month.
Mars is not visible this month.
Jupiter is visible in the evening sky this month in Aries. It rises during daylight hours during the month and sets at 23:20 ST by month’s end. It fades from mag -2.0 to mag -1.9 during the month.
Saturn is not visible this month.
Uranus is visible in the evening sky this month in Aries. It rises during daylight hours during the month and sets at 23:40 ST by month’s end. It maintains its brightness at mag +5.8 during the month. It lies below Botein (Delta (δ) Arietis, mag +4.3).
Neptune is at conjunction on the 17th and is not visible this month.
The last quarter moon is on the 3rd (15:24). The new moon is on the 10th (09:01). The first quarter moon is on the 17th (04:11). The full moon is on the 25th (07:00).
3rd am the 55% waning gibbous lies above right of Antares (Alpha (α) Scorpii, mag +0.9) at 04:00.
4th am the 44% waning crescent lies below left of Antares (Alpha (α) Scorpii, mag +0.9) at 05:00.
11th pm the 3% waxing crescent lies above left of Mercury at 19:00.
13th pm the 16% waxing crescent lies right of Jupiter at 20:00.
14th pm the 26% waxing crescent lies below right of M45 – The Pleiades and above left of Uranus at 20:00.
15th pm the 36% waxing crescent lies above right of Aldebaran (Alpha (α) Tauri, mag +0.9) and above left of M45 – The Pleiades at 20:00.
21st pm the 90% waxing gibbous lies above Regulus (Alpha (α) Leonis, mag +1.4) at 20:00.
22nd pm the 95% waxing gibbous lies below left of Regulus (Alpha (α) Leonis, mag +1.4) at 20:00.
26th pm the 98% waning gibbous lies left of Spica (Alpha (α) Virginis, mag +1.0) at 21:00.
30th am the 80% waning gibbous lies above right of Antares (Alpha (α) Scorpii, mag +0.9) at 02:00.
31st am the 70% waning gibbous lies below left of Antares (Alpha (α) Scorpii, mag +0.9) at 03:00.
The best time to observe meteor showers is when the moon is below the horizon; otherwise its bright glare limits the number you will see especially the fainter ones. Below is a guide to this month’s showers.
There are no major meteor showers this month.
There may be additional minor showers this month, details of which can be found in the below Information Sources and Links Section. The ZHR or Zenithal Hourly Rate is the number of meteors an observer would see in one hour under a clear, dark sky with a limiting apparent magnitude of 6.5 and if the radiant of the shower were in the zenith. The rate that can effectively be seen is nearly always lower and decreases as the radiant is closer to the horizon. The Zenith is the overhead point in the sky.
Asteroid (3) Juno is at opposition on the evening of the 3rd and is mag +8.6 in Leo. It will be visible as soon as darkness falls on the 3rd.
Asteroid (23) Thalia is at opposition on the morning of the 12th and is mag +9.7 in Leo. It will be visible as soon as darkness falls on the 11th.
Finder charts and further information about other fainter asteroids can be found in the below Information Sources and Links Section.
Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks is currently mag +7 and it is predicted to peak at mag +4 in April 2024. It is circumpolar at the start of the month, by mid-month it sets at 23:00 and by month’s end it sets at 23:00 ST. It moves from Andromeda to Pisces to Aries during the month.
On the evenings of the 10th – 13th, it passes below M31 – The Andromeda Galaxy. Also on the evening of the 13th, it lies above Delta (δ) Andromedae, mag +3.3. On the evening of the 22nd, it passes below M33 – The Triangulum Galaxy. During the last week of the month, it forms a triangle with Jupiter and Mercury, lying to the right of Jupiter and above Mercury. Finally on the evening of the 30th, it lies to the right of Hamal (Alpha (α) Arietis, mag +2.0). On the following evening, it lies to the left of the star.
Finder charts and further information about the above and other fainter comets can be found in the below Information Sources and Links Section. Any of the above estimates are based on current information at the time of writing the guide and can be wrong – “Comets are like cats; they have tails, and they do precisely what they want”, David H Levy. “If you want to have a safe gamble, bet on a horse – not a comet”, Dr Fred Whipple.
On the deep sky front this month, galaxies M81 and M82 can be observed in Ursa Major. In Andromeda, M31 – The Andromeda galaxy can be observed along with its satellite galaxies M32 and M110. In Perseus, there is the open cluster M34 and the excellent Double Cluster – NGC 869 and 884. In Auriga there are three open clusters M36, M37 and M38 and also M35 in Gemini. Taurus has the excellent Pleiades – M45, the Hyades and also M1 – The Crab Nebula. In Orion we have M42 – The Great Orion Nebula and also Cancer with M44 – The Beehive Cluster and M67. Check out the constellation Canes Venatici with the globular cluster – M3 and several galaxies including M51 – the Whirlpool Galaxy and M63 – the Sunflower Galaxy. In Leo, we have several galaxies on view including The Leo Triplet – M65, M66 and NGC 3628. M95, M96 and M105 can also be observed in Leo. The place to really find galaxies is in Virgo. The Virgo Super Cluster can be found here with numerous galaxies on view. Also in Virgo, M104 – the Sombrero Galaxy can be found. In Coma Berenices, there is M64 – the Black-Eye Galaxy.
Always keep an eye out for Aurorae. The Spring or Vernal Equinox is on March 20th which sees the end of winter and the beginning of spring. Other interesting naked eye phenomena to look out for include the Zodiacal Light and the Gegenschein. Both are caused by sunlight reflecting off dust particles which are present in the solar system.
The Zodiacal Light can be seen in the West after evening twilight has disappeared or in the East before the morning twilight. The best time of year to see the phenomenon is late-Feb to early-April in the evening sky and September/October in the morning sky – it’s then that the ecliptic, along which the cone of the zodiacal light lies, is steepest in our skies. The Gegenschein can be seen in the area of the sky opposite the sun. To view either, you must get yourself to a very dark site to cut out the light pollution. When trying to observe either of these phenomena, it is best to do so when the moon is below the horizon. A new appendix has been added explaining some of the more technical terms used in the guide.
Information Sources and Links
The ZHR or Zenithal Hourly Rate is the number of meteors an observer would see in one hour under a clear, dark sky with a limiting apparent magnitude of 6.5 and if the radiant of the shower were in the zenith. The rate that can effectively be seen is nearly always lower and decreases as the radiant is closer to the horizon. The Zenith is the overhead point in the sky.