Celestial News: March celestial highlights | SteamboatToday.com

Celestial News: March celestial highlights

The dazzling planet Venus returns as our Evening Star this month and will light up our early evening sky all spring and summer. Look west around 8:00pm on March 18 to catch Venus and Mercury in a striking close conjunction with the slender crescent moon.

March opened with a beautiful full moon on the evening of March 1. According to folklore, this third full moon of winter is called the Worm Moon. Having a full moon on the first day of the month allows time for a second full moon later that same month, 29.5 days later.

This second full moon in the same calendar month traditionally is called a Blue Moon. Thus, the full Egg Moon on March 31 will also be a Blue Moon. This will be the second Blue Moon of 2018, the first on Jan. 31. Because February has only 28 days this year, the full moon completely skipped over February to give March its two full moons.

Watch the moon pass by the very bright planet Jupiter on the night of March 6 and then the bright planets Saturn and Mars before dawn on March 10.

At dusk on March 18, look west into the twilight glow after sunset to see the slender crescent moon join the dazzling Evening Star, Venus, and the fainter Evening Star, Mercury. A few days later, the moon will appear close to the bright star Aldebaran in Taurus, on March 22, and then exceptionally close to the bright star Regulus in Leo on March 28.

The planet Venus is just now emerging from its recent pass behind the sun and will shine as our Evening Star for the next eight months. You can see it low in the western sky on any clear evening this month.

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Venus set about one hour after the sun on March 1 and about an hour and a half after the sun by month's end. It has a close encounter with Mercury on March 3, and then again about midmonth, on March 19.

And speaking of Mercury, this is one of the best evening appearances of the innermost planet all year. With Venus as your guide, you can spot the most challenging naked-eye planet with ease.

If you own a pair of binoculars or a small telescope, take a close-up look at the planet Mars before dawn on March 19. On that morning, Mars will be passing between two of the finest nebulae visible in the sky, the Lagoon Nebula (M8) and the Trifid Nebula (M20), in the constellation of Sagittarius. All three objects will fit in the same field of view of a low-power telescope.

The season of spring officially begins at 10:15 a.m. on March 20, the date of the Vernal Equinox. On that date, all locations on Earth will experience 12 hours of sunlight and 12 hours of darkness, as the Sun crosses the celestial equator on its way north.

And, don't forget to spring forward one hour on March 11 as we go off of Standard Time and go back on Daylight Saving Time until November. 

Jimmy Westlake retired from full time teaching at Colorado Mountain College's Steamboat campus in 2017, after nineteen years as their Professor of Physical Sciences. His “Celestial News” column appears in the Steamboat Today newspaper monthly. Check out Westlake's astrophotography website at jwestlake.com.