Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of March 2019
A mere 600 light-years away, NGC 2632 or M44 is one of the closest star clusters to our Solar System. Also known as the Praesepe or the Beehive cluster its stars are young though, about 600 million years old compared to our Sun's 4.5 billion years. Based on similar ages and motion through space, M44 and the even closer Hyades star cluster in Taurus are thought to have been born together in the same large molecular cloud. An open cluster spanning some 15 light years across, M44 holds 1000 or so stars and covers about 3 full moons (1.5 degrees) across the sky in the constellation Cancer. Visible to the unaided eye, M44 has been recognized since antiquity. Described as a faint cloud or celestial mist long before being included as M44 in Charles Messier's 18th century catalog, the cluster was not resolved into its individual stars until telescopes were available. A popular target for modern, binocular-equiped sky gazers, the cluster's few yellowish tinted, cool, red giants are scattered through the field of its brighter hot blue main sequence stars. (Credits: NASA, JPL – Caltech, and the Office of Public Outreach – STScI) (Image Credit: Giuseppe Donatiello from Oria (Brindisi), Italy).
Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of March 2019
Welcome to the night sky report for March 2019 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. In March, the stars of spring lie eastward. Look for the constellations Gemini and Cancer to spot interesting celestial features like the Beehive Cluster. The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard.
Jupiter greets early risers all month long. Look low in the southeast an hour before sunrise. (And if you have an unobstructed view toward the horizon, you'll be able to spot Saturn and Venus as well, a bit lower in the sky). March marks the 40th anniversary of the Voyager 1 spacecraft's flyby of Jupiter in 1979. Voyager gave us our first detailed, close-up look at the giant planet and its moons.
March also brings the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, starting on March 20th, with the Spring Equinox. Equinoxes occur twice a year, in spring and fall, on the dates when day and night are of equal length. From here until the beginning of fall in September, daytime will be longer than nighttime, as the Sun travels a longer and higher arc across the sky each day, reaching a peak at the start of summer. It's just the opposite in the Southern Hemisphere, where March 20th marks the fall Equinox.
Earth is tilted on its axis with respect to the Sun. This means that, as the planet orbits the Sun each year, different parts of Earth get the Sun’s direct rays. It also means the Sun is in the sky longer during part of the year (summer) making for longer days and warmer temperatures, and for less time during part of the year (winter) making for shorter days and cooler temperatures. In 2019, the fall equinox is on September 23. The beginning of summer, or summer solstice, is on June 21.
As the brilliant stars of winter progress toward the west, the constellations of spring make their appearance. Two March constellations derived from Greek mythology, Gemini and Cancer, lie in the zodiac. The zodiac is the name for the band of sky through which the Sun, Moon, and planets appear to travel.
The Gemini twins lie high overhead. They were among Jason's Argonauts, who sailed the seas searching for the Golden Fleece. The two bright stars are the heads of the brothers, Castor and Pollux.
A fuzzy patch lies near the feet of the Gemini twins. NGC 2168 (or M35) is a pretty cluster of several hundred stars.
Cancer is often identified as a crab, but has also been seen as a lobster or crayfish. In Greek mythology, Cancer was placed in the heavens by Hera, wife of Zeus, to immortalize its tenacious but futile battle with Hercules. It is a much dimmer constellation than Gemini and hard to see in light-polluted skies.
Within Cancer lies the lovely Beehive Cluster, also known as NGC 2632, M44, or the Praesepe (Latin for trough or manger). Ancient stargazers called it "the cloudy star." This large cluster contains about 1000 stars and lies about 577 light years away from us. This grouping is only a few hundred million years old. That's compared to our Sun's age of four and a half billion years. Although the Beehive can be seen as a small fuzzy patch with unaided eyes under dark skies, it is best viewed with binoculars.
While the Beehive Cluster is visible in the first half of the night all month long, the best times to look for it are the first and last weeks of the month, as the Moon shines brightly mid-month in 2019, making faint objects like this cluster more difficult see.
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."
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: Canis Minor
NGC 2419 Globular Cluster C25, Herschel 400 H218-1
NGC 2683 Galaxy Herschel 400 H200-1
NGC 2782 Galaxy Herschel 400 H167-1
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
NGC 2298 Globular Cluster P98
NGC 2396 Open Cluster P99
NGC 2409 Open Cluster P100
NGC 2414 Open Cluster P101
NGC 2421 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H67-7
NGC 2422 Open Cluster M47, Herschel 400 H38-8
NGC 2423 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H28-7
NGC 2432 Open Cluster P241
NGC 2437 Open Cluster M46
NGC 2438 Planetary Nebula Herschel 400 H39-4 Part of M46
NGC 2439 Open Cluster P46
NGC 2440 Planetary Nebula Herschel 400 H64-4
NGC 2447 Open Cluster M93
NGC 2451 Open Cluster P47
NGC 2453 Open Cluster P176
NGC 2455 Open Cluster P242
NGC 2467 Open Cluster P102
NGC 2477 Open Cluster C71
NGC 2479 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H58-7
NGC 2482 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H10-7
NGC 2483 Open Cluster P103
NGC 2489 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H23-7
NGC 2509 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H1-8
NGC 2527 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H30-8
NGC 2533 Open Cluster P104
NGC 2539 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H11-7
NGC 2546 Open Cluster P48
NGC 2567 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H64-7
NGC 2568 Open Cluster P177
NGC 2571 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H39-6
NGC 2579 Open Cluster P105
NGC 2580 Open Cluster P178
NGC 2587 Open Cluster P179
NGC 2588 Open Cluster P243
NGC 2613 Galaxy Herschel 400 H266-2
NGC 2627 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H63-7
NGC 2635 Open Cluster P244
NGC 2658 Open Cluster P180
NGC 2818 Planetary Nebula P245
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