Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of March 2021
M65 (NGC 3623) is a spiral galaxy with an apparent magnitude of 10.3. Charles Messier discovered it and its neighbor M66 on the same night in 1780. Located roughly 35 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Leo, M65 is a member of the Leo Triplet of galaxies. It can be spotted with a small telescope in the same field of view as the other members of the triplet (M66 and NGC 3628). [Video and Content Credits: NASA, JPL – Caltech, and the Office of Public Outreach – STScI] [Image Credit: Adam Block, Mount Lemmon SkyCenter, University of Arizona using the 0.8m Schulman Telescope]
Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of March 2021
Welcome to the night sky report for March 2021 -- 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 star clusters M35 and the Beehive Cluster (M44), as well as NGC 3923, an oblong elliptical galaxy with an interesting ripple pattern. Look for Mars close to the Pleiades in the first couple of weeks of March. Then wake up early to observe the giant planets Jupiter and Saturn, which return as morning planets this month.
As winter turns into spring, the sky transitions as well 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.
In the first week or so of March, you'll find Mars near the Pleiades star cluster high in the west in the few hours after sunset. NASA's Perseverance rover successfully landed on Mars on February 18th. In addition, orbiters from two other nations arrived in orbit around the Red Planet last month, making 2021 a truly international year of Mars exploration.
You may also notice a couple of other reddish objects forming a line with Mars – that is, the stars Aldebaran, which forms the angry eye of Taurus the bull, and Betelgeuse, the shoulder of Orion. And speaking of Betelgeuse, astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and other observatories have determined the cause of the star's dimming last year was likely due to a cloud of dust ejected by the aging red giant. While scientists think the star has moved into burning helium, instead of hydrogen, in its core, they think it's unlikely to explode in a supernova anytime soon.
Friday morning, March 5, 2021, the bright star Antares will appear about 8 degrees below the waning gibbous Moon. Antares will rise after the Moon in the southeast at 1:17 a.m. EST, and it will appear about 6 degrees to the lower left of the Moon as morning twilight begins and the Moon reaches its highest in the sky at 5:37 a.m.
Also on Friday morning, the planets Jupiter and Mercury will appear at their closest to each other as morning twilight begins, appearing about 1.5 degrees above the horizon in the east-southeast.
Saturday morning, March 6, 2021, will be when the planet Mercury reaches its greatest angular separation from the Sun as seen from the Earth for this apparition (called greatest elongation), appearing half-lit through a large enough telescope. Because the angle of the line between the Sun and Mercury and the horizon changes with the seasons, the date when Mercury and the Sun appear farthest apart as seen from the Earth is not the same as when Mercury appears highest above the horizon in the east-southeast as morning twilight begins, which occurred on the morning of Feb. 26, 2021.
Tuesday morning, March 9, 2021, the waning crescent Moon and the planets Saturn, Jupiter, and Mercury, will appear near the horizon from the southeast to the east-southeast. As morning twilight begins the Moon will appear on the right in the southeast at about 7 degrees above the horizon, with Saturn about 8 degrees to the left of the Moon in the east-southeast at about the same elevation above the horizon. The bright planet Jupiter will appear farther to the lower left at about 3 degrees above the horizon and Mercury will appear to the lower left of Jupiter at only 1 degree above the horizon.
By Wednesday morning, March 10, 2021, the waning crescent Moon will appear to have shifted to below and about halfway between Jupiter and Saturn in the east-southeast. As morning twilight begins, Saturn will appear on the right at about 8 degrees above the horizon, the Moon will appear to the lower left of Saturn only about a degree above the horizon, Jupiter will appear to the upper left of the Moon at 3 degrees above the horizon, and Mercury will appear farthest to the left at less than a degree above the horizon.
At about 6:45 a.m. EST (2021-Mar-10 11:45 UTC with 36 minutes uncertainty), Near-Earth Object (2021 CF6), between 152 to 339 feet (46 and 103 meters) across, will pass the Earth at between 4.1 and 4.2 lunar distances (nominally 4.2), traveling at 18,700 miles per hour (8.36 kilometers per second).
Thursday morning, March 11, 2021, will be the last morning Mercury will appear above the east-southeastern horizon at the time morning twilight begins, although Mercury should continue to be visible after it rises until about 30 minutes before sunrise.
Sunday, March 14, 2021, is the first day of Daylight Savings Time. Don't forget to reset your clocks and "Spring Forward."
Thursday, March 18, 2021, at 1:03 a.m. EDT, the Moon will be at apogee, its farthest from the Earth for this orbit.
On Friday night, March 19, 2021, the waxing crescent Moon, the planet Mars, and the bright star Aldebaran will form a triangle in the evening sky. Mars will appear about 3 degrees to the lower right of the Moon with Aldebaran appearing about 6 degrees to the lower left of the Moon. Aldebaran will set first in the west-northwest early Saturday morning at 12:51 a.m.
Saturday morning, March 20, 2021, at 5:37 a.m. EDT, will be the spring or vernal equinox, the astronomical end of winter, and the start of spring. From on the equator in eastern Kenya the Sun will appear to pass directly overhead, moving from the Southern Hemisphere to the Northern Hemisphere.
Saturday evening, the planet Mars and the bright star Aldebaran will appear closest to each other, slightly under 7 degrees apart.
On Monday evening into Tuesday morning, March 22 to 23, 2021, the bright star Pollux, the brighter of the twin stars in the constellation Gemini, will appear above the waxing gibbous Moon. Pollux will appear about 7 degrees to the upper left of the Moon as evening twilight ends at 8:20 p.m. EDT, close to when the Moon will be highest in the sky for the night. Pollux will appear about 5 degrees to the upper right of the Moon by the time the Moon sets in the west-northwest on Tuesday morning at 4:10 a.m. EDT.
On Thursday evening into Friday morning, March 25 to 26, 2021, the bright star Regulus will appear about 5 degrees below the waxing gibbous Moon. Regulus will appear to the lower right of the Moon as evening twilight ends at 8:23 p.m. EDT. By the time the Moon reaches its highest in the sky for the night at 11:08 p.m. EDT – Regulus will appear nearly below the Moon. Regulus will set first in the west-northwest on Friday morning at 5:43 a.m. EDT.
On Friday morning, the planet Venus will be passing on the far side of the Sun as seen from the Earth, called superior conjunction. Because Venus orbits inside of the orbit of Earth, Venus will be shifting from the morning sky to the evening sky. Venus will begin emerging from the glow of dusk on the western horizon after about April 23, 2021.
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
NGC 2367 Open Cluster P74
NGC 2374 Open Cluster P75
NGC 2383 Open Cluster P135
NGC 2384 Open Cluster P76
NGC 3962 Galaxy Herschel 400 H67-1
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
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
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
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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