Quantcast
Adventure
Assja / iStock

March Astronomical Highlights: Full Moons and Plenty of Messier Objects

By Kelly Kizer Whitt

This month, our days will finally become "longer." Clocks will spring forward an hour for Daylight Savings Time on Sunday, March 11. At the same time, the Northern Hemisphere is shifting from winter to spring, which means longer days are also coming naturally. The equinox falls on March 20, when the sun rises directly in the east and sets directly in the west.


For astronomers, this season means a good chance to see distant galaxies that show up in spring constellations. It's also an opportunity to spot all 160 of the Messier objects. These objects were catalogued by the French astronomer Charles Messier, who lived in the 18th and early 19th centuries. While he was searching for comets, he kept tabs of all the "faint fuzzies" he saw, unaware that they were the deep-sky delights we know now as star clusters, gaseous nebulas and galaxies.

A Messier marathon is the modern-day attempt to view as many Messier objects as possible in one night. While this is best left for veteran observers with high-powered telescopes, there are a number of easy objects you can check off with just your eyes or a pair of binoculars. Here is a handful to get you started:

  • M45: Pleiades star cluster (Taurus)
  • M42: Orion Nebula (Orion)
  • M31: Andromeda Galaxy (Andromeda)
  • M44: Beehive Cluster (Cancer)
  • M13: Hercules globular cluster (Hercules)
  • M57: Ring Nebula (Lyra)

Even though March is considered the best month for bagging all the Messier objects, some are more easily found in different seasons. The first four on this brief list should be a breeze to spot this month. One way to find Messier objects is to do a slow scan of the Milky Way with a telescope or binoculars. If you brush over a distinct gathering of stars or hazy patch of sky, you've most likely discovered a Messier star cluster or nebula.

One of the biggest hindrances to seeing deep-sky objects like Messier's non-comets is the interference of a full moon, and there will be two in March—the first is on March 1 at 4:52 p.m. PST, and the second, a Blue Moon, is on March 31 at 5:37 a.m. PDT.

Venus has been edging back into the evening sky, and in March, it should be easier to find. On March 3, Venus and Mercury will be only 1 degree apart near the western horizon after sunset. On March 18 they'll be farther apart at 4 degrees, but a crescent moon will join them, making for a pretty sight. Soon after, Mercury will sink back toward the sun, but Venus will continue to climb upwards, albeit slowly.

You'll have a chance to spot elusive Uranus at the end of the month, using Venus as a guidepost. Binoculars or a telescope are a must, especially because both planets will be near the horizon after sunset before the sky is totally dark. On March 28, find Venus in the west. You'll need a flat, clear view to the horizon to see it as it follows the sun down. Use binoculars to find a faint point of light in the field of view with Venus. This object is Uranus, a mere four arcminutes from Venus.

Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Animals
A North Carolina concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO, on Sept.18, 2018, Larry Baldwin / Crystal Coast Waterkeeper.

3.4 Million Chickens, 5,500 Hogs Killed in Florence's Flooding

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture said Wednesday that the historic flooding from Florence has killed about 3.4 million chickens and turkeys and 5,500 hogs.

"This was an unprecedented storm with flooding expected to exceed that from any other storms in recent memory. We know agricultural losses will be significant because the flooding has affected the top six agricultural counties in our state," said agriculture commissioner Steve Troxler in a press release.

The footprint of flooding from this storm covers much of the same area hit by flooding from Hurricane Matthew in 2016, which only worsens the burden on these farmers.
Keep reading... Show less
Food
Pacific Press / LightRocket / Getty Images

Are Plant-Eaters Smarter and More Empathetic Than Meat-Eaters?

By Matthew Ponsford

Human, monkey, pig.

Wrapped inside the giant magnetic coil of an magnetic imaging resonance (MRI) scanner, three silent animal videos flash up and then disappear in front of a test subject's eyes.

Keep reading... Show less
Food
One Meal a Day for the Planet / Center for Biological Diversity

National Day of Action Asks Applebee's for Plant-Based Menu Options

One Meal a Day for the Planet and the Center for Biological Diversity Tuesday hosted events at Applebee's locations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Clearwater, Florida to ask the restaurant to add at least one plant-based entrée to all of its menus nationwide.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Scott Olson / Getty Images News / Getty Images

Duke University Study: N.C. Residents Living Near Large Hog Farms Have Elevated Disease, Death Risks

By Olga Naidenko and Sydney Evans

Residents of communities near industrial-scale hog farms in North Carolina face an increased risk of potentially deadly diseases, Duke University scientists reported in a study released this week.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Animals
Mosquito larvae can mistake tiny bits of plastic for food. fuentedelateja / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Mosquitoes Could Spread Microplastics, Study Suggests

Microplastics, which get gobbled up by whales, deep-sea fish and plankton, have also turned up in the bodies of mosquitoes, scientists have revealed.

The research, published Wednesday in the journal Biology Letters, is the first to show that bits of plastic can be transferred between a mosquito's life stages that use different habitats.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
Pipe being transported to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Photo credit: Mark Levisay / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Atlantic Coast Pipeline Work Restarts as Opponents Decry 'Rushed Decisions'

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) ruled Monday that work could resume on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which opponents call "unnecessary and a boondoggle," the Charlotte Business Journal reported.

Work on the controversial pipeline halted last month after a federal appeals court vacated two permits required for the project to complete its 600 mile route from West Virginia, through Virginia, to North Carolina.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Business
zodebala / iStock

Investigators Find Slave Labor on Starbucks-Certified Brazil Coffee Plantation

By Daniela Penha and Roberto Cataldo, Translator

This story was produced via a co-publishing partnership between Mongabay and Repórter Brasil and can be read in Portuguese here.

At first sight, the Córrego das Almas farm in Piumhi, in rural Minas Gerais state, seems to be a model property. "No slave or forced labor is allowed," reads one of several signs that display international certifications—including one linked to the U.S. based company Starbucks corporation.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Oil and gas companies flare natural gas that cannot be processed or sold. Varodrig / Wikimedia Commons

Trump Lets Fracking Companies Release More Climate-Warming Methane

As expected, the U.S. Department of the Interior on Tuesday released a final rule that reverses Obama-era restrictions on methane emissions from oil and gas operations.

President Obama's 2016 methane waste rule, which never went into effect, required fossil fuel companies on tribal and public lands to reduce emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that's about 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. It called on drilling operators to capture leaking and vented methane and to update their leak-detection equipment.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!