February 20, 2024

AstroCal – March 2024


     We begin March with the evening planets.  Jupiter has been the star of the show, so to speak,  as it has been visible crossing the night sky all winter.  As March begins, look for this gas giant planet high in the west.  It will continue to drop lower in the sky as the month continues and will set five hours after sunset early in the month (three hours by month’s end).  Uranus will be about 6 degrees above Jupiter at mid-month and a small telescope or binoculars will be helpful to see the gap between them close.  By April 20, Jupter will pass just 0.5 degrees from Uranus (remember, a three-finger ‘Boy Scout’ salute held at arm’s length equals 5 degrees, the width of your pinky finger spans 1 degree).

     Mercury joins the evening planetary fun during the second week of March.  Look for it close by the horizon in the west 30 minutes after sunset.  On March 12, the very Young Crescent Moon will be located above and slightly left of Mercury.  On March 24, Mercury will be 19 degrees west of the Sun and at its greatest elongation (this will be the best evening apparition of the innermost planet for the year).  The Winged Messenger will rapidly fade and almost be gone from the evening sky by the end of March.

     Venus starts the month very close to the eastern horizon 40 minutes before sunrise and will drop lower in the sky each day.  By month’s end, it will be lost in the twilight glare of the Sun.  Jupiter will reach superior conjunction on June 4 (when Venus will pass behind the Sun) and reappear in the evening sky in August of 2024.  Mars will be to the upper right of Jupiter and as our gas giant neighbor drops lower in the sky, Mars will continue to get higher above the eastern horizon.  Rising about an hour before sunrise early in the month, its appearance ahead of the Sun will only increase by about seven minutes by the end of March.  Saturn joins the dawn sky by month’s end and our observing challenge for March includes Venus.  On March 21, the pair will pass just 0.6 degrees from each other but being only 19 degrees from the Sun, they will be very challenging to spot.  Look for the pair 13 degrees to the lower left of Mars.

     We begin the month with the Last Quarter Moon of the old cycle on March 3 and the New Moon marking the start of the new cycle on Mar 10.  On this date, the Moon will be at perigee, or closest point to the Earth, at 3 a.m. when it will be 221,764 miles from us.  The First Quarter Moon will take place on March 17 and the Full Moon will fall on March 25.  Apogee, or the Moon’s farthest distance from Earth, will precede the Full Moon on March 23 when it will be 252,459 miles away at 12 a.m. EDT.  

     Two other important dates in March include the return of Daylight Saving Time at 2 a.m. on March 10 and the Spring or Vernal Equinox (which will mark the official start of spring) at 11:06 p.m., on March 19th.  My mother, Irene, was an equinox baby born on March 21, 1924 and this year would have been her 100 th birthday (she passed away in 2019 at the age of 95).

     Our historical observation for this month would be to find asteroid 3 Juno located in the constellation Leo the Lion.  Juno was only the third asteroid discovered (by German astronomer Karl Harding in 1804) and will be in opposition with the Sun on March 3.  You will need help as it will be shining at magnitude 8.7.  Another binocular observation will take place on March 30 and 31 when Comet 12/Pons-Brooks (mag 5 but slowly brightening) will be located within 1 degree of the star Hamal, Alpha Ari.  More detailed information about these objects can be found on the web site.

   Compiled by Ken Raisanen of WOAS-FM – information provided by Abrams Planetarium Sky Calendar, Michigan State University.  More information and subscription information can be found on their website at or on X (formerly Twitter) at  Yearly subscriptions cost $12 and can be started anytime.


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