Night sky for March 2012

Last updated 08:04 01/03/2012

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Night Sky

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Sun: Autumn is well under way this month. The 20th marks the Equinox, or equal day and night, meaning that the Sun has crossed the equator and is heading back into the northern sky.

Moon: There are several close approaches to other objects this month. Mars is within 12 degrees of the Moon on the 7th and 8th. Antares will appear about 6 degrees away on the 14th. Venus and Jupiter will be equidistant from the crescent Moon on the evening of the 26th.The Moon's phases are: Two First Quarters, the 1st and 31st, with Full Moon falling on the 8th. Last Quarter is the 15th, and New Moon follows on the 23rd.

Planets: Mercury is too close to the Sun to be observed.

Venus sets around ninety minutes after the Sun. Look towards the west, from about 7.30pm. On the 14th, Jupiter and Venus will be only three degrees apart.

Mars comes to opposition on the 4th, and will appear as a very bright orange star, low in the eastern sky. This opposition is not a close one and so the planet will show only a small disk in a telescope.

Jupiter spends the month in the western evening sky, close to Venus.

Saturn is well positioned for viewing this month as it is visible throughout the night. Look for it in the north-east, around 9pm. The planet is in the constellation of Virgo and close to its brightest star, Spica.

Stars, constellations: Orion has now moved into the western sky. Other than Eridanus and Cetus, that area appears relatively empty of stars.

The north-western sky is somewhat richer. Close to setting are the Pleiades. Slightly above them can be found the V-shaped constellation of Taurus.

Almost directly north is Gemini, with its two bright stars, Castor and Pollux. Further east is Leo, with its main star, Regulus.

Overhead are a number of the summer constellations, including Canis Major, Puppis and Carina. Two brilliant stars stand out - Sirius and Canopus.

The southern quadrant contains the Southern Cross, the Pointers, both Magellanic Clouds, and, towards the south-west, the star Achernar.

Our eastern sky has little visible other than the very long, but rather faint, Hydra. Later in the evening, Spica will rise almost due east.

The Milky Way runs overhead from north-west to south-east.

* Prepared for The Taranaki Daily News by Tom Whelan, Cape Egmont Observatory.

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