Excuse Me While I Kiss the Sky -- Month of March 2024

Posted by Guy Pirro   03/02/2024 04:52PM

Excuse Me While I Kiss the Sky -- Month of March 2024

This beautiful image captures the spiral galaxy M83 (NGC 5236), also known as the Southern Pinwheel. This galaxy is located 15 million light-years away from Earth in the constellation Hydra. It was discovered in 1752 by the French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille. With an apparent magnitude of 7.5, M83 is one of the brightest spiral galaxies in the night sky and can be observed using a pair of binoculars. The newest generations of stars in M83 are forming largely in clusters on the edges of the dark, spiraling dust lanes. These brilliant, young stellar groupings are only a few million years old and produce huge amounts of ultraviolet light. That light is absorbed by the surrounding diffuse gas clouds, causing them to glow in pinkish hydrogen light. This image was taken from Chiefland Astronomy Village in Florida with a Starlight Xpress SXV-H9 camera and a 110 minute exposure. [Video and Content Credits: NASA, the Office of Public Outreach – Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) and JPL – Caltech, Preston Dyches, Christopher Harris, and Lisa Poje with subject matter guidance provided by Bill Dunford, Gary Spiers, Lyle Tavernier, and Molly Wasser] [Image Credit:  Charles Warren, Astromart Gallery Contributor - https://www.astromart.com/gallery/photo/18351 , https://www.astromart.com/gallery/user/441 ]


Excuse Me While I Kiss the Sky -- Month of March 2024

Welcome to the night sky report for March 2024 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. There's a comet making its way into the inner Solar System that's already observable with a telescope and might start to become visible to the unaided eye by late March or in April. Comet 12P Pons-Brooks has been observed on several of its previous appearances going back hundreds of years and one thing it's known for is its occasional outbursts. In March, the stars of spring lie eastward. Look for the constellations Gemini and Cancer to spot interesting celestial features like star clusters M35, the Beehive Cluster (M44), and NGC 3923, an oblong elliptical galaxy with an interesting ripple pattern. Find the Y-shaped constellation Taurus, the bull, high in the southwest. The Hyades star cluster forms the bull's face. The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard.

This month you'll find Jupiter shining brightly in the west during the early evening hours all month long.On March 13th, it's joined by a crescent Moon so close that the pair will be visible together through binoculars.



On the following evening, the Moon visits the Pleiades. This is another close pairing – with the five-day-old lunar crescent hanging right next to the bright star cluster – that will look great through a small telescope or binoculars.

Near the end of March, observers in the Northern Hemisphere will have the best opportunity of the year to catch a glimpse of Mercury in the evening sky. Look for it shining brightly low in the west following sunset.

Overnight on March 24th and into the 25th, the Moon will pass through the outer part of Earth's shadow, creating a faint lunar eclipse called a penumbral eclipse. The more spectacular variety of lunar eclipses happens when the Moon passes through Earth's inner shadow, or umbra. That's when we see a dark "bite" taken out of the Moon, or in the case of a total lunar eclipse, a reddish, so-called "blood moon." Penumbral eclipses cause only a slight dimming of the Moon's brightness, so if you're not looking for it, you might not know there was an eclipse happening. But if you glance at the Moon early in the night, and then later, around the peak of the eclipse, you might notice the difference in brightness.

Even faint lunar eclipses like this one are always accompanied by a solar eclipse either a couple of weeks before or after. And on April 8th, a total solar eclipse will sweep across the US.

There's a comet making its way into the inner Solar System that's already observable with a telescope and might start to become visible to the unaided eye by late March or in April. It’s a mountain of rock, dust, and ice several miles wide named Comet 12P Pons-Brooks.

It has a stretched-out, 71-year-long orbit that carries it as far from the Sun as the orbit of Neptune and nearly as close as the orbit of Venus. Fortunately, because this orbit is tilted, it doesn't cross our planet's path, so there's no chance of a collision.

Comet 12P has been observed on several of its previous appearances going back hundreds of years and one thing it's known for is its occasional outbursts. Sometimes this comet suddenly brightens by quite bit due to bursts of gas and dust being released from beneath its surface. If this happens in the March-April timeframe as the comet nears the Sun, it could become bright enough to observe with the eye alone.

But even without additional brightening from outbursts, the comet is predicted to peak at a brightness that should make it easy to see with binoculars (and possibly with just your naked-eyes under the dark skies by the end of March).

Comets are notoriously unpredictable, so it's hard to know for sure how bright Comet Pons-Brooks will get as it nears the Sun, but it's certainly worth a look. You can find it low in the west-northwest part of the sky at the end of evening twilight.

Comets, along with asteroids, are leftover pieces of the materials that formed the Sun and planets. So catch a comet and glimpse one of the building blocks of our solar system with your own eyes.



As Winter turns into Spring, the sky transitions with new starry sights to see. Orion with his shining belt still dominates the evening sky. Just past Orion’s raised arm lies the constellation of Gemini, also known as the Twins. In Greek mythology, the Twins accompanied Jason and the Argonauts on their expedition in search of the Golden Fleece.

The brightest stars in Gemini mark the heads of the twins, Castor and Pollux. Pollux is a yellowish giant swelling as it enters old age, and hosts a Jupiter-sized planet. Castor is a system of three pairs of stars bound in an intricate gravitational dance. At the feet of the Gemini brothers is a fuzzy patch that binoculars or a small telescope show to be a cluster of several hundred stars called M35.

Neighboring Gemini is the faint constellation of Cancer. Within the body of Cancer lies M44, the Beehive cluster, one of the nearest star clusters to Earth. This swarm of stars looks like a cloudy patch to the naked eye, but ground-based telescopes show a pleasing scatter of roughly 1000 stars.

Adjacent to Cancer lurks the head of Hydra, the water snake, the longest constellation in the sky. Distant galaxies like NGC 3923 reside along the snake’s coils. While NGC 3923 appears as a faint smudge in backyard telescopes, more powerful observatories reveal it to be a giant, oblong elliptical galaxy with an interesting ripple pattern.

Near the end of Hydra’s tail lies M83, a closer galaxy with a spiral shape. Also known as the Southern Pinwheel, the galaxy is a swirl of dark dust lanes, blue star clusters, and glowing pink star-forming clouds. An X-ray image reveals details that no human eye could ever see on its own: searing hot gases tracing the spiral arms, black holes and neutron stars emitting X-rays as they gobble up companions, and a core of concentrated black holes and neutron stars, the product of recent star formation.

Look high in the southwest on March evenings and you'll find the tall, Y-shaped constellation Taurus, the bull. And at the center of Taurus, forming the bull's face, is a grouping of stars known as the Hyades star cluster. It's the closest open star cluster to our solar system, containing hundreds of stars.

An open cluster is a group of stars that are close together in space and loosely bound together by their mutual gravity. These are stars that formed together around the same time, from the same cloud of dust and gas. Over time they blow away that leftover nebula material and drift apart. Because of this and their open, or diffuse, structures, they're called "open" clusters. Our own Sun formed in a cluster like this, and studying these structures helps us understand how stars form and evolve.

Another well-known open cluster is the Pleiades, which is also located in Taurus. The Hyades and the Pleiades are actually about the same size, at about 15 or so light-years across. But the Pleiades is about 3 times farther away, so it appears more compact.

You don't need a telescope to find the Hyades. Look for this V-shaped grouping of stars in Taurus. Use the stars of Orion's belt as a handy pointer, leading you to bright orange Aldebaran. (Aldebaran isn't actually part of the star cluster. It's located halfway to the Hyades, and just happens to be visible in the foreground.)

So check out the Hyades in March, where you'll see a handful of stars with the unaided eye, and more than a hundred with binoculars.

March skies contain several easy-to-find, bright stars that are known to have planets of their own orbiting around them. Locate these distant "suns" for yourself and you'll know you're peering directly at another planetary system.

First is Epsilon Tauri, the right eye of Taurus the bull. This orange dwarf star has a gas giant planet around 8 times the mass of Jupiter. Next is 7 Canis Majoris. This is the star at the heart of the dog constellation that contains blazing bright Sirius. This star is known to have two planets: a gas giant nearly twice the mass of Jupiter and another just a little smaller than Jupiter.

Moving on, we find Tau Geminorum, the star at the heart of Castor – northern-most of the twins in Gemini. Tau Geminorum has a huge gas giant planet 20 times the mass of Jupiter in an orbit only slightly larger than that of Earth. And finally, wheeling around to the north, is Beta Ursae Minoris, the brightest star in the bowl of the Little Dipper. This star has a 6-Jupiter-mass planet in orbit around it.

Researchers believe that most stars have a family of planets orbiting them, because forming planets is a natural part of forming stars. Now you know how to find a few of them yourself, no telescope required.

The night sky is always a celestial showcase. Explore its wonders from your own backyard.

The following Deep Sky Objects are found in constellations that peak during the month. Some can be viewed with a small telescope, but the majority will require a moderate to large telescope. The following is adapted from my personal viewing list: "The Guy Pirro 777 Best and Brightest Deep Sky Objects."


Constellation: Cancer

NGC 2632                    Open Cluster               M44 Beehive Cluster

NGC 2682                    Open Cluster               M67

NGC 2775                    Galaxy                         C48, Herschel 400 H2-1


Constellation: Canis Major

IC 468                          Diffuse Nebula             P132

IC 2165                        Planetary Nebula        P133

NGC 2204                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H13-7

NGC 2207                    Galaxy                         P216

- IC 2163                 Galaxy                              - Interacting with P216

NGC 2217                    Galaxy                         P72

NGC 2243                    Open Cluster               P134

NGC 2287                    Open Cluster               M41

NGC 2345                    Open Cluster               P73

NGC 2354                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H16-7

NGC 2359                    Diffuse Nebula             P20 Thor’s Helmet

NGC 2360                    Open Cluster               C58, Herschel 400 H12-7

NGC 2362                    Open Cluster               C64, Herschel 400 H17-7 Tau Canis Major Cluster

NGC 2367                    Open Cluster               P74

NGC 2374                    Open Cluster               P75

NGC 2383                    Open Cluster               P135

NGC 2384                    Open Cluster               P76


Constellation: Crater

NGC 3962                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H67-1


Constellation: Gemini

IC 2157                        Open Cluster               P156

NGC 2129                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H26-8

NGC 2158                    Globular Cluster          Herschel 400 H17-6

NGC 2168                    Open Cluster               M35

NGC 2266                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H21-6

NGC 2304                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H2-6

NGC 2331                    Open Cluster               P157

NGC 2355                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H6-6

NGC 2371                    Planetary Nebula        Herschel 400 H316-2 (South)

     - Paired with H317-2

NGC 2372                    Planetary Nebula        Herschel 400 H317-2 (North)

     - Paired with H316-2

NGC 2392                    Planetary Nebula        C39, Herschel 400 H45-4 - Eskimo Nebula

NGC 2395                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H11-8

NGC 2420                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H1-6


Constellation: Hydra

NGC 2548                    Open Cluster               M48, Herschel 400 H22-6

NGC 2784                    Galaxy                         P87

NGC 2811                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H505-2

NGC 3109                    Galaxy                         P88

NGC 3242                    Planetary Nebula        C59, Herschel 400 H27-4 - Ghost of Jupiter Nebula

NGC 3585                    Galaxy                         P35

NGC 3621                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H241-1

NGC 3923                    Galaxy                         P89

NGC 4590                    Globular Cluster          M68

NGC 5236                    Galaxy                         M83 - Southern Pinwheel Galaxy

NGC 5694                    Globular Cluster          C66, Herschel 400 H196-2


Constellation: Leo

NGC 2903                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H56-1

NGC 2964                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H114-1

     - NGC 2968             Galaxy                              - Paired with H114-1

NGC 3190                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H44-2

     - NGC 3187             Galaxy                              - Paired with H44-2

NGC 3193                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H45-2

NGC 3226                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H28-2

     - Paired with H29-2

NGC 3227                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H29-2

     - Paired with H28-2

NGC 3351                    Galaxy                         M95

NGC 3368                    Galaxy                         M96

NGC 3377                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H99-2

NGC 3379                    Galaxy                         M105, Herschel 400 H17-1

NGC 3384                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H18-1

NGC 3412                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H27-1

NGC 3489                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H101-2

NGC 3521                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H13-1

NGC 3593                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H29-1

NGC 3607                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H50-2

     - Paired with H51-2

NGC 3608                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H51-2

     - Paired with H50-2

NGC 3623                    Galaxy                         M65

NGC 3626                    Galaxy                         C40, Herschel 400 H52-2

NGC 3627                    Galaxy                         M66

NGC 3628                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H8-5

NGC 3640                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H33-2

     - NGC 3641             Galaxy                              - Paired with H33-2

NGC 3655                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H5-1

NGC 3686                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H160-2

NGC 3810                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H21-1

NGC 3900                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H82-1

NGC 3912                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H342-2


Constellation: Leo Minor

NGC 2859                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H137-1

NGC 3245                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H86-1

NGC 3277                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H359-2

NGC 3294                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H164-1

NGC 3344                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H81-1

NGC 3395                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H116-1

     - NGC 3396             Galaxy                              - Interacting with H116-1

NGC 3414                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H362-2

NGC 3432                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H172-1

NGC 3486                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H87-1

NGC 3504                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H88-1

     - NGC 3512             Galaxy                              - Paired with H88-1           


Constellation: Orion

IC 434                          Diffuse Nebula            P92 - Horsehead Nebula

NGC 1662                    Open Cluster               P39

NGC 1788                    Diffuse Nebula             Herschel 400 H32-5

NGC 1976                    Diffuse Nebula             M42 - Great Orion Nebula

NGC 1977                    Open Cluster               P40 - Running Man Nebular Cluster

     - NGC 1973             Diffuse Nebula                        - Part of P40

     - NGC 1975             Diffuse Nebula                        - Part of P40

NGC 1980                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H31-5

NGC 1981                    Open Cluster               P41

NGC 1982                    Diffuse Nebula             M43 - DeMairan Nebula

NGC 1999                    Diffuse Nebula             Herschel 400 H33-4

NGC 2022                    Diffuse Nebula             Herschel 400 H34-4

NGC 2023                    Diffuse Nebula             P93

NGC 2024                    Diffuse Nebula             Herschel 400 H28-5 - Flame Nebula

NGC 2039                    Open Cluster               P94

NGC 2068                    Diffuse Nebula             M78

NGC 2071                    Diffuse Nebula             P42

NGC 2112                    Open Cluster               P170

NGC 2141                    Open Cluster               P171

NGC 2143                    Open Cluster               P172

NGC 2169                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H24-8

NGC 2175                    Open Cluster               P43

     - NGC 2174             Diffuse Nebula                        - Part of P43

     - IC 2159                 Diffuse Nebula                       - Part of P43

NGC 2186                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H25-7

NGC 2194                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H5-6


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