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Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of March 2022
The Horsehead Nebula (IC434), embedded in the vast and complex Orion Nebula roughly 1500 light years away, is one of the most famous nebulae on the sky. It is visible as the dark indentation to the red emission nebula in the center of this image. The horse-head feature is dark because it is really an opaque dust cloud that lies in front of the bright red emission nebula. Like clouds in Earth's atmosphere, this cosmic cloud has assumed a recognizable shape by chance. After many thousands of years, the internal motions of the cloud will surely alter its appearance. The emission nebula's red color is caused by electrons recombining with protons to form hydrogen atoms. [Video and Content Credits: NASA, the Office of Public Outreach – Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), JPL – Caltech, Preston Dyches, Christopher Harris, and Lisa Poje] [Image Credit: Jean-Charles Cuillandre, Hawaiian Starlight, Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope].
Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of March 2022
Welcome to the night sky report for March 2022 -- 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, 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. Look for Saturn to join Venus and Mars in the morning sky around mid-month.
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.
Saturn joins Venus and Mars this month in the morning sky. Beginning around March 18th or 19th, early risers may notice Saturn steadily moving toward Mars and Venus each day, to form a trio low in the east before sunrise. The crescent moon joins the crowd on the 27th and 28th. Saturn and Mars are headed toward a super-close meeting at the start of April.
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."
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
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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