Friday morning March 20th the 26-day old waning crescent Moon will be near the Dwarf Planet Ceres. However the close conjunction (1-2o) between Mars and Jupiter should be an especially good view through the eyepiece of binoculars or the eyepiece of a telescope.
Friday March 20th, this year-2020, is an equinox day. However depending on your local time zone the equinox may occur on the day before as the official time for the equinox is 03:54 UT on the 20th which for my time zone is 10:54 pm March 19th. Regardless, for those in the northern hemisphere winter is ending and spring has ‘sprung’ (starts). From a geographical perspective we would describe the Sun as being over the Earth’s equator, and as this graphic shows there would be an equal amount of daylight and night on our planet as a result.
At mid-day on the equator the sun is directly overhead and from that latitude you have no elongated shadow, just a ‘blob-like’ shadow at your feet as this picture of my feet taken at mid-day in Quito Ecuador shows.
Northern hemisphere spring officially (well at least astronomically) begins at 03:54 UT on the 20th which for my time zone is 10:54 pm March 19th when the Sun reaches the celestial coordinates of 0 hours and 0 degrees as it moves northward along the ecliptic crossing the celestial equator. At this location the Sun is just within the constellation of Pisces the Fishes and not entering Aries the Ram as the pseudoscience of astrology would have you believe.
To learn more about the celestial coordinates click here to read a previous post about seasons and the equinox.
Click here to see the online world sunlight map used to make the day/night graphic at the top of the page.
Celebrate Solar Week March 23rd-27th. Click here to go to the Solar Week web site.
During a trip to Quito Ecuador to visit one of the exchange student we had hosted, and her family, we spent the day at a Museum on the equator, Mitad del Mundo. I brought along my over-sized protractor knowing in advance that we would be at the museum. So at mid-day I had my wife stand on the equator (yellow line) and hold a string to the top of her head while Cathy, a sister of our exchange student, held the protractor. This was done during the summer so the Sun was over the northern horizon at mid-day and the Sun’s angle above the northern horizon was around 75o.
Here is a short series of hourly pictures taken during the day on the September equinox on the equator in Quito Ecuador at Collegio Menor San Francisco de Quito, a private school that I visited and did the SunShIP project with (Sun Shadow Investigation Project).
Tuesday morning March 17th watch for the 23-day old waning crescent Moon to be approaching a group of 3 planets beginning a series of 3 conjunctions. Starting with a conjunction with Mars (10o separation) on the 17th, then a day or so later a conjunction with all three of the planets coming the closest, about 1-2o, to Jupiter and Mars on the 18o. Saturn is about 7o to the east from the Moon, Jupiter and Mars. A day after that the Moon will have passed by Saturn and will be about 7o to the east from Saturn.
If you watch carefully you will see that Mars is also moving eastward, as are Jupiter and Saturn. However Mars and the Moon are moving faster than the two ringed planets with the Moon moving the most per day. The result is that over the next several days, to the end of this month, Mars will be gradually passing by the two planets as the Moon, relative to Mars, will zoom past.
Monday March 16th the last quarter Moon crosses the plane of the ecliptic moving south. This is known as the descending node, one of two intersections the Moon’s orbital path (dark green line) has with the ecliptic.
This part of the Milky Way has many beautiful deep sky objects like the two diffuse nebula, M-20 and M-8, currently within a 7×50 binocular field of view including the Moon. But unfortunately not visible until the Moon with its reflected light moves further east.
Sunday morning March 15th look toward the southeastern horizon for a nice line-up of some visible planets and the 19-day old waning gibbous Moon. The Moon is about 7o from the reddish star Antares in Scorpius the Scorpion.
Over the next several days the Moon, as it wanes toward new Moon, will move eastward past the planets that are lined up near the ecliptic. The planet Mars is also on the move eastward, albeit not as fast as the Moon.
Saturday March 14th, 3/14/2020, is perhaps better known as Pi Day given that 3.14, the value for Pi, is also the month and day number. Learn more about Pi and see what NASA has planned for this special day at the NASA Pi Day Challenge web site.
Saturday the 14th, weather depending, is another day this year when you have a choice of planet viewing – all of the six visible planets in fact. In the early morning skies look east and southeast for a line-up of planets ranging from Mercury, to Saturn, Mars, Jupiter, and the 19-day old waning gibbous Moon. In the evening after sunset Venus shines brightly over the western horizon. Venus is near the outer ringed planet Uranus, but Uranus is not considered a naked-eye visible planet in most skies.
Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are all visible, but that’s only five visible planets. So where is the sixth visible planet?
Over the next several days, actually the rest of the month, watch for the planet Mars to move past Jupiter, March 20th, and Saturn on the 31st, as this animated graphic is showing. It is set to 1-day intervals starting on March 12th and ending on April 1st.
Also watch for the waning crescent Moon to move past the three planets. On the 18th the waning crescent Moon will be near all three of the planets.
Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.
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