The Night Sky This Month: March 2022

Night Sky 7
Image Credit: Michał Mancewicz

The March Equinox, also known as the vernal equinox, occurs on the 20th of the month. At this time, the Sun will be shining down directly on the equator, which marks the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and the start of autumn in the Southern Hemisphere. The word equinox originates from the Latin for ‘equal night’, with the night and day being roughly the same length of time on equinox days.

In March, planetary viewing will remain poor, with only Mars and Venus well placed for observers located at 50 degrees North or more. Meanwhile, the visible planets remain low on the horizon for observers at or below mid-northern latitudes. Nevertheless, most planets are now early morning or pre-dawn objects, with the brightening sky limiting the time available to view them.

The Moon Phases in March 2022

New Moon First Quarter Full Moon Last Quarter
March 31st March 10th March 18th March 24th

The Planets in March 2022

Mercury is now falling back towards the Sun as it approaches the end of its first dawn apparition for this year. Note that while observers at mid-northern latitudes may obtain clear views of the little planet, as it will be shining at magnitude -0.1, albeit low on the horizon, observers north of about 50 degrees North may not be able to see the planet at all.

Venus is now approaching its point of greatest western elongation from the Sun, which position it will reach on the 20th of the month. Due to the angle of the ecliptic relative to the horizon, Venus was at its highest elevation during this apparition on the 24 of February. Given that the planet was below the horizon on this date, it will gain significant altitude as the month progresses. For observers at or below mid-northern latitudes, Venus will rise to about 30 degrees, and it will be prominent in the southeastern sky above Mars towards the end of March. Note that Venus will dim slightly from magnitude -4.73 to magnitude -4.41 as the month progresses.

Mars is still visible as a pre-dawn object in the southeastern sky, and it will shine at magnitude +1.25 as March starts. For observers below about 50 degrees North, Mars will reach an elevation of about 27 degrees, but like with Venus, binoculars may be required to spot the planet in the brightening sky.

Jupiter reaches a point of superior conjunction on the 4th, and will therefore not be visible throughout March.

Saturn will become accessible as a pre-dawn object very late in the month, having passed behind the Sun on the 4th of February. Note though that the planet will only be visible for observers below about 40 degrees North, and even then, the planet will not rise to above about 10 degrees above the horizon. Nonetheless, for observers that are well placed to view Saturn, it will shine at magnitude 0.86, and have an angular diameter of 16 seconds of arc, while the ring system will span across 37 seconds of arc. Like with Venus and Mars, binoculars may be required to spot Saturn in the brightening sky.

Meteor Showers in March 2022

No significant meteor activity is expected to occur during March 2022.

Constellation Leo in March 2022

The constellation Leo is now prominent in the southeast, and since it lies wholly above the ecliptic, it is visible to most northern observers. Leo is also one of the few constellations that have more than an imaginary resemblance to the object it is named after, and it does not take much imagination to see the body of a lion stretched out among the stars.

Its head and mane are marked out by the “Sickle”, while the bright star Regulus marks out the position of its right knee. The base of the lion’s neck is marked out by the 1.4-magnitude bright star Algieba, the second brightest star in the constellation. With a medium-aperture telescope, Albiega resolves into a pretty binary system that consists of two golden-yellow stars that orbit a common center of gravity once every 600 years.

Leo is perhaps most famous for the two pairs of galaxies that nestle below its belly, all four of which are Messier objects that are easy to find with a small telescope at low power. The first pair of galaxies is located about 9 degrees to the westward of Regulus, and consists of M95 as the eastern member of the pair, and M96.

The second pair of galaxies consists of M65, a large Sa-type spiral, and M66, and an even bigger Sb-type spiral with a smaller nucleus and more open arms than M65. This pair of galaxies is also an easy target for small telescopes at low power, although higher magnifications will show each galaxy as a separate object.

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