Star Diary Podcast | What is in the night sky from March 20-26, 2023
What to see in our weekly guide to night sky stargazing for the week of March 20-26, 2023: Ceres is sweeping past galaxy M100 and passing through opposition this week as the new moon provides an opportunity for deep sky observations .
Chris Bramley Hello and welcome to Star Diary, the podcast from the creators of BBC Sky at Night Magazine. You can subscribe to the print edition of the magazine at www.skyatnightmagazine.com or our digital edition on iTunes or Google Play.
Ezzy Pearson Greetings, listeners and welcome to Star Diary, a weekly guide to the best things to see in the Northern Hemisphere night sky, as we are based here in the UK. All times are in GMT, as a special precaution for all US listeners, be aware that your clocks have changed while others have not, so you may need to take this into account when making the conversion. At any point in this episode, we cover the coming week, March 20-26. I’m Ezzy Pearson, the magazine’s features editor, and unfortunately none of my co-hosts have been able to join me this week. But I’m here to take you through the best things to see in the night sky this week. And after a quiet few weeks, I’m happy to say that there are quite a few things to watch out for in the night sky this week. So let’s take a look at what’s coming up in the nights this week.
From March 20th is the equinox. This is practically the day of the year when day and night are of equal length. So 12 hours day and 12 hours night. And it is caused because the sun will cross what is called the celestial equator. So where it’s directly above the equator, and that’s going to happen at exactly 9:25 p.m. At the 20th of March. It marks us on the way to spring. And unfortunately for us astronomers this means that we are also moving into an era where the days will be longer than the nights, which will shorten our time for astronomy, which is very sad, but it doesn’t mean we are should. I will still not mark these heavenly events. March 21st is the new moon. So time to do those deep sky observations that were on your list. The moon will be out of the way. You won’t have any light pollution contributing to your pictures so hopefully this is a great opportunity to get those.
Also on March 21st is a great time to see the dwarf planet Ceres. It will pass through the constellation Coma Berenices and north of the Virgo cluster the dwarf planet is about magnitude 6.6, up 6.6 at the moment. So that means you need to use binoculars or a small telescope to be able to see it. But it’s brighter than most things in the asteroid belt. So it’s a good time to watch it. And the reason it’s so bright right now is because it’s headed for the opposition on March 23rd. So on March 21 it will be near the Virgo cluster, on March 23 it will be opposition. So that means it’s opposite the sun in the sky. So Sun, Earth and then Ceres all in a row. You’ll also notice that I’m very careful about calling Ceres a dwarf planet in this section, even though it’s in the asteroid belt. If you want to know more about the history of Ceres and its name, be sure to head back to last week’s episode where we go into a bit more detail.
On March 22, the moon begins to lighten again in the evening sky. After new moon. It will still only be 1% illuminated, so it will be a very faint crescent, but about 1.8 degrees away will be the planet Jupiter. The moon is about half a degree in diameter, so it will be about three to four lunar diameters away, and Jupiter will be very bright right now, so you shouldn’t have much trouble finding it. It has a strength of -1.9. Any minus magnitude is instantly one of the brightest things in the night sky. So minus two means it’s incredibly bright. Unfortunately, the moon is very low on the western horizon right now, which means it’s pretty hard to see. And it will set very quickly too. Jupiter sets around 8:30 p.m. and the moon follows about 10 minutes later. So you’ll have to be on your toes to catch these two together. However, with the crescent moon and Jupiter close to the horizon, this also offers many potential photo opportunities. So if you have any interesting foregrounds that you think might balance these two together, put March 22nd in your journal.
There is another double show between the moon and a planet on March 24th, this time in the morning sky when the 9% waxing crescent will be 57 arc minutes south of the planet Venus, about one degree south of Venus. But that will happen at 10:10 am, which is in the morning sky. And by then the sun will rise. So if you are looking for these tasks, be very careful. Never look directly at the sun, not even with the naked eye, and certainly not through optics. In fact, I would leave any type of telescope or binoculars alone to observe them as well. But if you’re out and happen to see the moon next to a bright spot in the sky when you’re getting your coffee at 10 a.m., so be it. So keep an eye on these.
But not until the evening of March 24th. Into the evening the moon will be about two degrees away from the planet Uranus. As the pair set at around 10:25 p.m., Uranus is a very dark planet, unlike Jupiter and Venus. It has a strength of +5.8. So you really need binoculars or a telescope to be able to see that. However, it does mean you have the beautiful Moon pointing either way to help you locate Uranus in the night sky. If that’s what you’re looking for and need a bit of guidance.
Then, on March 25, the 20% illuminated Crescent Moon approaches the northwestern horizon, and it also approaches the Pleiades open star cluster, a beautiful cluster surrounded by this enchanting blue nebula, this white-blue nebula that man that can even be seen with the naked eye. However, to really appreciate it, you should look through binoculars or a telescope. But they’re pretty easy to find here, too. And at that time, the moon will be about 2.5 degrees apart in the night sky, so relatively close together. And it will be a great photo opportunity to capture two beautiful things together in the night sky.
Then finally, on March 26, Ceres will be back again, and this time it will fly over the +9.3 magnitude galaxy M100. And that all night and into the morning. So many opportunities to see that the two are actually going to be very close for… all week long March 23-29. You can get them in the same field of view, but on the night of the 26th they’ll really brush past each other. Ceres will come very close to the spiral arm of M100. So if you want to see that, you should definitely go out on March 26th. Thankfully, the moon will cooperate and get out of the way nice and early, so give yourself plenty of opportunity to see and really appreciate this dark celestial object. To find it, M100 is next to the bright stellar diadem in the constellation Coma Berenice, allowing you to find a dwarf planet in our own galaxy next to a galaxy 55 million light-years away. And I always think when you can pull off these simple juxtapositions, it’s always a really adorable thing. A beautiful reminder of our place in the universe and the grandeur of all that the cosmos is around us.
Finally, a reminder to all our UK listeners: March 26th is the date when all clocks change. So we will be moving towards British Summer Time from now on. From next month’s episode all our times will be in UK Summer Time. So if you want to make sure you catch those episodes, subscribe to the podcast and hopefully we’ll see you then.
If you’re keen to discover even more spectacular locations that will grace the night sky throughout the month then be sure to pick up a copy of the BBC Sky at Night magazine where we have a 16 page pull out sky guide with a full overview of everything what is worth looking for. Whether you enjoy gazing at the moon, the planets or the deep sky, whether you use binoculars, a telescope or both. Our sky guide has provided you with detailed star charts to help you track your way across the night sky. From all of us here at BBC Sky at Night Magazine. Good bye.
Chris Thank you for listening to this episode of the Star Diary podcast from the creators of BBC Sky at Night magazine. You can find more of our podcasts on our website at skyatnightmagazine.com or on iTunes or Spotify.