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Astro Bob: March sky celestial highlights

Our March astronomical calendar features several nice conjunctions and a delightful Arabic star group near the Big Dipper.

Venus Jupiter conjunction
March 1 is the big night for the Jupiter-Venus conjunction, but if it's cloudy they'll still be close for the next few nights. Look up in the western sky around an hour after sunset for a good view.
Contributed / Stellarium

We begin the month with a delightful close conjunction of Venus and Jupiter during evening twilight on March 1. Additional conjunctions between the moon and planets follow in the nights ahead, along with close pairings of Venus and Mars and bright star clusters. Mars is on the move, cruising eastward across the Winter Hexagon, while Venus commands the western sky at dusk. Itโ€™s so bright that novice skywatchers might mistake it for a UFO!

Three Leaps Gazelle
Look for the ancient Arabic star pattern called the Three Leaps of the Gazelle above the Big Dipper on March evenings. In Greek mythology the three pairs of stars represent the paws of the Great Bear (Ursa Major).
Contributed / Stellarium

The Big Dipper rides high as well. Any clear night, just face northeast and tilt your head back for a look. Higher yet and above the Dipper, look for three pairs of stars that form the feet of Ursa Major the Great Bear. Theyโ€™re also called the Three Leaps of the Gazelle, an ancient Arabic asterism that represents a gazelle running from a lion and leaving glowing hoof prints in the sky.

Jupiter Venus switch
The day after their close conjunction, Jupiter switches places with Venus, appearing beneath the brighter planet. Venus-Jupiter conjunctions occur every year or two. The last occurred on April 30, 2022, and the next naked-eye-visible one will happen on August 12, 2025.
Contributed / Stellarium

March 1 โ€“ Venus and Jupiter shine side-by-side just 0.5 degrees apart (one full-moon diameter) in the western sky at dusk. Look between 45 and 90 minutes after sunset. Theyโ€™ll remain close through about March 3.

All month โ€“ Watch Mars, still bright at first magnitude, slowly slide east (left) across the Winter Hexagon this month as it follows its orbit around the sun. The Hexagon includes a half-dozen of winterโ€™s brightest stars in a giant six-sided figure centered on Orion.

Full Moon Jan 6 2023
The Full Worm Moon occurs on March 7. Watch it rise right around sunset in the eastern sky that evening. It will pair up with the blue-gray band of Earth's shadow (seen here), which also rises in the east at sunset.
Contributed / Bob King

March 7 โ€“ Full Worm Moon

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March 12 โ€“ Daylight Saving Time begins at 2 a.m. local time

March 14 โ€“ Last quarter moon

March 20 โ€“ Spring equinox. The official first day of spring starts at 4:24 p.m. Central Daylight Time. Day and night are each 12 hours long across the planet. The sun rises due east and sets due west.

March 21 โ€“ New moon

March 22 โ€“ Catch the fingernail crescent moon just 2 degrees above Jupiter low in the western sky from 30 to 45 minutes after sunset.

March 23 and 24 โ€“ Waxing lunar crescent appears below Venus on the March and above it on March 24. Best viewing time is 1-2 hours after sunset. Look west.

Moon Pleiades March 25.jpg
The crescent moon will be in conjunction with the Pleiades on March 25 and look stunning through binoculars.
Contributed / Stellarium

March 25 โ€“ Moon in conjunction with the Pleiades star cluster, also called the Seven Sisters. Theyโ€™ll be just 1.5 degrees apart at dusk. Fabulous view in binoculars!

March 28 โ€“ First quarter moon

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March 29-31 โ€“ Mars passes just 1 degree above (north) the bright, binocular star cluster M35 in the constellation Gemini. Center the planet in the field of view of your binoculars and look for a sparkly patch of fainter stars just below it.

March 30-31 โ€“ Saturn returns to view very low in the southeastern sky about an hour before sunup. It spends the year crawling across the constellation Aquarius.

"Astro" Bob King is a freelance writer and retired photographer for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at nightsky55@gmail.com.
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