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The Skies of March, 2023

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March Skies

by Dick Cookman

March 2, 2023

Highlights: Comet Journal, Martian Landers, Meteor Showers, Planet Plotting, March Moon

Focus Constellations: Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Draco, Cepheus, Cassiopeia, Camelopardalis, Perseus, Auriga, Taurus, Orion, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Coma Berenices, Bootes

Comet Journals

The “Green Comet” C/2022 E3 (ZTF) reached perihelion on the Jan. 12 and was closest to Earth on February 1-2. It is in Taurus and will move southward into Eridanus in March. It is at magnitude 8 and will fade as it disappears into southern hemisphere skies.

Comet C/2020 V2 (ZTF) is at 9th magnitude in Andromeda and will move into Triangulum in March. Perihelion occurs in May, 2023 and it is closest to Earth in September. C/2022 A2 (PanSTARRS) was closest to Earth on January 17 and at perihelion on Feb. 18. It is at 9th magnitude in Lacerta and moves into Andromeda in March. The comet then turns southward and will pass through Aquarius by years end.

Mars Landers

China’s Zhurong rover fell victim to the dust storm which caused the demise of the Insight lander when it failed to wake up on Dec. 26. Zhurong landed in a large plain in Mars’ northern hemisphere called Utopia Planitia on May 15, 2021 – where NASA’s Viking 2 Lander touched down in 1976. Zhurong found evidence suggesting that water persisted long after Mars dried billions of years ago. They found hydrated silica and sulfates formed a few tens of millions of years ago. The discovery of this duricrust layer, which is thicker than duricrust which was probably formed by atmospheric water vapor found at other Martian landing sites, suggests that Utopia Planitia had an active water cycle. This supports the increasing evidence found by other missions that the red planet went through relatively recent wet/warm and dry/cold cycles rather than making one ancient climate shift. These changes may have been the result of cycles of changing axial tilt, volcanic events, or impacts from other celestial objects.

Meteor Showers

March has no major meteor showers. However, the steep angle that the ecliptic makes with the evening horizon makes March is a good time to view the zodiacal light –– sunlight reflected off the dust from ancient comets and broken up meteoroids dispersed in the inner part of the solar system. If you are favored by dark skies unpolluted by outdoor lights and their skyglow, look for the faint glow above the western horizon after sunset.

Planet Plottings

Ancient Greeks differentiated fixed stars from wandering stars (asters planetai), yet all were thought to orbit Earth. Wanderers included the Sun, Moon, comets, meteors, and planets. In 1543, Copernicus proposed that the Sun was the center about which six of the wanderers (planets) orbited. Positions of meteors and comets were controversial as some considered them celestial and others thought that they were atmospheric phenomena. The Moon was the only wanderer orbiting Earth as Galileo proved in 1610 when he viewed moons orbiting Jupiter.

On March 19, a waning crescent moon scoots by the only visible morning planet, Saturn (0.9) in Aquarius. Neptune (7.9), buried in the Sun’s glow in Pisces, is next on the 21st, almost a week after its conjunction with the Sun on the 15th. The evening dance of the Moon and planets starts with Jupiter (-1.9) in Pisces low in the west after sunset in March. Venus (-3.9) in Pisces is below Jupiter on the 1st and passes north of it on the 2nd. By the 31st, Venus in Aries is higher above the horizon. The waxing crescent Moon grazes by on the 24th before passing Uranus (5.8) in Aries that evening. Venus swings by Uranus on the 31st. Mercury (-1.8) in Pisces is at Superior Conjunction on the 17th after which, on the 21st, it appears with a waxing crescent Moon which slips by Jupiter the next day. Mercury appears to pass north of Jupiter on the 28th when the waxing crescent Moon passes Mars (1.0) in Gemini which is well above the western horizon after sunset. Allemande left, then promenade.

PlanetConstellation(s)MagnitudePlanet PassagesTimeDate
SunPisces-26.5New Moon1:23PM EDT3/21
MercuryAquarius, Pisces-0.5 to -1.8 to -1.1Superior Conjunction
Jupiter 1.5° N
7:00AM EDT
11:00AM EDT
VenusPisces, Aries-3.9Jupiter 0.5° S
Uranus 1.3° S
6:00AM EST
2:00AM EDT
MarsTaurus, Gemini0.4 to 1.0   
JupiterPisces-1.9Venus 0.5° N
Mercury 1.5° N
6:00AM EST
11:00AM EDT
SaturnAquarius0.9 to 1.0   
UranusAries5.8Venus 1.3° N2:00AM EDT3/31
NeptuneAquarius, Pisces8.0Solar Conjunction8:00PM EDT3/15

March Moon

Lunar Apogee (maximum lunar distance) is on March 3 at 1:00PM EST when the Moon’s distance is 252,207 mi. (63.64 Earth radii). Lunar Perigee distance (minimum lunar distance) is 225,369 mi. (56.86 Earth radiil) on the 19th at 11:12AM EDT, the day before the vernal equinox at 5:24PM EDT on the 20th. The New Moon on March 21 is in Pisces at 1:23PM EDT. The New Moon is the start of Lunation 1240 which ends 29.45 days later with the New Moon in Aries on April 20 at 12:15AM EDT. The Full Moon is in Leo on the 7th at 7:40AM EST. The March Moon is called Sap Moon, Crow Moon, or Worm Moon. It was called the Chaste Moon in Medieval England and for Celts it was the Moon of Winds. In China, it is Sleepy Moon and Colonial Americans called it Fish Moon. Anishnaabe (Odawa and Ojibwe) first people recognize the March Moon as Onaabani-giizis (Snowcrust Moon).

Ontario’s Earth Haven Farm documents cultural teachings explaining the cycle of life and nature of the 3rd Grandmother Moon of Creation: “The third moon of Creation is the Worm or Sugar Moon. As the maple sap begins to run, we learn of one of the main medicines given to the Anishnabe which balances our blood, and heals us. During this time, we are encouraged to balance our lives as we would our blood sugar levels, by using Divine Law.”

PlanetConstellationMagnitudeMoon PassagesMoon PhaseMoon Age
SunPisces-26.81:23PM EDT, 3/21New0 Days
MercuryPisces-1.71.65°SE, 10:00PM EDT, 3/21Waxing Crescent0.36 Days
VenusAries-3.90.1°S, 6:00AM EDT, 3/24Waxing Crescent2.69 Days
MarsGemini0.92.0°N, 9:00AM EDT, 3/28Waxing Crescent6.82 Days
JupiterPisces-1.90.5°S, 4:00PM EDT, 3/22Waxing Crescent1.11 Days
SaturnAquarius0.94°S, 11:00AM EDT, 3/19Waning Crescent27.37 Days
UranusAries5.81.5°N, 9:00PM EDT, 3/24Waxing Crescent3.32 Days
NeptunePisces8.02.11° SE, 4:00AM EDT, 3/21Waning Crescent29.08 Days


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