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Friday, April 26, 2013

Urban Observing March 2013

This month brings the possibility of the first bright comet of the year. Just past it’s closest approach the the Sun, PANNSTARs should be at its biggest and brightest early this month, but it’ll only be visible from the southern hemisphere. Look for some nice images from southern hemisphere photographers at the start of the month. By March 14 however, it moves far enough to be visible on the NW horizon an hour after sunset. Watch for it from mid March through mid April in the west and northwest after sunset. Although it should be fading by April, it will be circumpolar by that time, making it a good target for binoculars and small telescopes.
Looking west on March 15 (image made using Starry Night)
Looking west on March 15 at sunset (image made using Starry Night)
Comet PANSTARRS on March 25. (Image made using Starry Night)
Comet PANSTARRS on March 25 at sunset. Note it will probably not be bright enough to see in the twilight without binoculars. (Image made using Starry Night)

Jupiter is farther west in the evening skies in March. It makes an excellent target for a small telescope in the evening. Use the Sky & Telescope Galilean Moons applet to identify the moons. If you have a slightly larger ‘scope and good skies, check out their applet for the visibility of the Great Red Spot.
While you’re looking at jupiter, be sure to check out the Orion nebula andPleiades cluster, high in the south an hour after sunset. They are both bright enough to be visible through fairly bad ligh pollution, though you won’t be able to see the nebulosity in the Pleiades.
Farther east, between Gemini and Leo, is M44 or the Beehive cluster. In darker skies this is a naked eye object. Binoculars reveal dozens of stars even in most cities.
Catch the double star Izar in bootes rising later in the evening.
Saturn rises late in the evening at the start of the month. Near the end of the month it should be up and easily visible by 11 pm.
Mercury starts the month in the glare of the Sun, but reappears in the morning skies near the end of the month. Look for it half an hour before dawn in the ENE during the last two weeks of the month.
Mars, and Venus are a bit too close to the Sun for easy observing this month.
The equinox falls on march 21 this year. Be careful of those due east-west streets if you’re driving around sunrise or sunset that day. It’s also a great day to figure out if your street really lines up with a cardinal point or not.
Moon is full on March 27.
On March 17, Look for the Hyades the moon and Jupiter All in a line together. I you have a telescope, look along the terminator near Mare Nectaris. There is a set of three craters there, Theophilus, Cyrillus, and Catharina. Just a bit farther south, look for the curving Rupes Altai escarpment.

The Moon on March 17.
The Moon on March 17, with the three craters and Mare Nectaris labeled. Moon image from Starry Night.

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