Welcome to the March edition of Eyes on the Night Sky. Whether you have a telescope, binoculars or just your eyes, there is always something to discover.

The New Moon occurs on 2nd March, which is an ideal time to study faint, deep sky objects such as nebulae, galaxies and globular clusters. The Full Moon rises in the east at 6.30pm on 18th March.

Planetary Conjunctions in March

For early risers, look out for a beautiful conjunction of planets on 25th March. Bright Venus joins Jupiter and March which are positioned low on the South-eastern horizon. Over the next week at around the same time, the trio of planets will rise together.

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Zodiacal Light

Look out for the amazing Zodiacal Light, seen in dark sky areas such as the Elan Valley International Dark Sky Park and rural areas away from the light pollution of towns and cities. It emerges into the western sky about an hour after sunset. With dark adapted eyes, look out for a cone of light shining at an angle from the horizon upwards. It may look like a strong, artificial light is being shone upwards. It is thought to be a natural phenomenon caused by debris from comets and dust from asteroid collisions in our Solar System and can be seen during late February, and throughout the months of March and April.

Melotte 111 (Open Star Cluster)

RA 12h 22.5m | Dec +25° 51′

Open Cluster Melotte 111 is located in the constellation Coma Berenices, comprising 40 bright stars. In ancient times, it was thought to represent the tail of Leo. In 240 BC, it was named after Bernice’s hair, who was the queen of Egypt at the time. According to the legend, she sacrificed her hair to Aphrodite for the safe return of her husband who was in battle against the Seleucids during the third Syrian War.

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The best way to see this object is through binoculars, although the individual stars look bright through a telescope, however loosely scattered. It can also be seen with the unaided eye as a patch of dim stars close in position.

Two Globular Star Clusters and a Galaxy

Use your telescopes to discover two globular clusters and an interesting galaxy in the constellation of Coma Berenices, which will be well-placed in the night sky at midnight. The stars in Coma Berenices are quite dim and difficult to find so you will need an urban/rural – rural sky to find it. Find the bright red star Arcturus and the Constellation of Leo nearby – Coma Berenices lies between the two. Dark-adapted eyes are required to see the three bright stars that make up the right angle -shaped asterism that makes up Coma Berenices.

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Messier 3 Globular Cluster

RA 13h 42m 11.62s | Dec +28° 22′ 38.2″

Messier 3 is a globular cluster and rivals the splendour of the more popular Great Hercules Cluster (M13).

It looks spectacular through telescopes of 8 inches aperture and above and it’s easy to believe this cluster contains over a staggering half-million stars. Situated 34,000 light years from Earth, this object can also be seen with binoculars.

Messier 53 Globular Cluster

RA 13h 12m 55.25s | Dec +18° 10′ 05.4″

Messier 53 is a second globular cluster in Coma Berenices, situated 58,000 light years away, making it one of the most distant globular clusters on Earth. This cluster contains up to 500,000 stars. It doesn’t appear as detailed in telescopes due to its sheer distance.

Messier 64 Black Eye Galaxy

RA 12h 56m 44s | Dec +21° 40′ 58″

The Black Eye Galaxy (M64) lies in the heart of Coma Berenices and is 24 million light years away from Earth. This is an object that can be studied in smaller telescopes and is intriguing due to its unusual behaviour: the outer regions of the galaxy rotates in the opposite direction from its core. The reason for this phenomenon is not fully known, but experts speculate that it could have been a result of a smaller galaxy merging with M64. In between the inner and outer regions of this galaxy is an area of active star formation.

Under dark skies and great observing conditions, the dark dust lane can be seen through telescopes of four inches aperture and above. Larger telescopes will reveal the galaxy’s outer halo.


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