The Sky Above You – March 2021
By Duncan Lunan
The Moon will be New on March 13th, and it will be Full on March 28th. That will be a ‘supermoon’, when the Moon is Full two days before its nearest to Earth.
The planet Mercury is in the morning sky at the beginning of the month, very close to Jupiter on the 5th (17 arcminutes, little more than half the apparent diameter of the Moon), both rising about 5 a.m. with Saturn 12 degrees off to the right. Mercury is at its greatest separation from the Sun on the 6th, and the Moon is near it on the 11th, but it will disappear into twilight by mid-March.
Venus is not visible in March, at superior conjunction beyond the Sun on the 26th.
Mars continues to grow fainter in Taurus, passing the Pleiades in the first week of March and the Hyades on the 19th, with the Moon between them and closer to Mars..
China’s Tianwen-1 orbiter and Hope, the first interplanetary spacecraft from the United Arab Emirates, both successfully achieved orbit around the planet in mid-February, and on the 18th the USA’s Perseverance landed in the crater Jezero, which shows extensive signs of ancient flooding. While searching for signs of ancient life, it’s intended to test a small helicopter, the first flying machine in the atmosphere of Mars, and to begin collecting samples for retrieval by a later probe. Tianwen-1 will also set down a lander, in three months’ time, while Hope will study the atmosphere from orbit.
Vesta, the brightest of the asteroids, is in Leo, at opposition (at its closest, due south at midnight), and makes a loop within the constellation during the month as it’s passed by the Earth.
Jupiter and Saturn are both in Capricornus, rising at 5.00 a.m. along with Mercury as above, with the Moon near them on the 9th and 10th.
Uranus in Aries sets around 10 p.m. in March, near the Moon on the 17th.
Neptune is not visible this month, at superior conjunction beyond the Sun on the 11th and passed by the New Moon on the 13th.
My space travel stories, old and new, have been collected and published by Other Side Books as From the Moon to the Stars, relating to the Moon and Project Apollo, and The Other Side of the Interface, with a wider scope. Both have illustrations by Sydney Jordan, and are available through Amazon or through bookshops. Details of them and my other books are on my website, www.duncanlunan.com.
The Sky Above You
By Duncan Lunan
About this Column
I began writing this column in early 1983 at the suggestion of the late Chris Boyce. At that time the Post Office would allow 1000 free mailings to start a new business, just under the number of small press newspapers in the UK at the time. I printed a flyer with the help of John Braithwaite (of Braithwaite Telescopes) offering a three-part column for £5, with the sky this month, a series of articles for beginners, and a monthly news feature. The column ran from May 1983 to May 1993 in various newspapers and magazines, but never in more than five outlets at a time, although every one of those 1000-plus papers would have included an astrology column. Since then it’s appeared sporadically in a range of publications including The Southsider in Glasgow and the Dalyan Courier in Turkey, but most often, normally three times per year, in Jeff Hawke’s Cosmos from the first issue in March 2003 until the last in January 2018. It continues to appear monthly in Troon's Going Out and Orkney News. Enquries from other outlets welcomed!
The monthly maps for the column were drawn for me by Jim Barker, based on similar, uncredited ones in Dr. Leon Hausman’s “Astronomy Handbook” (Fawcett Publications, 1956). Jim had to redraw or elongate several of them because they were drawn for mid-US latitudes, about 40 degrees North, making them usable over most of the northern hemisphere. The biggest change needed was in November when only Dubhe, Merak and Megrez of the Big Dipper, as the US version called it, were visible at that latitude. In the UK, all the stars of the Plough are circumpolar, always above the horizon. We decided to keep an insert in the January map showing the position of M42, the Great Nebula in the Sword of Orion, and for that reason, to stick with the set time of 9 p.m., (10 p.m. BST in summer), although in Scotland the sky isn’t dark then during June and July.
To use the maps in theory you should hold them overhead, aligning the North edge to true north, marked by Polaris and indicated by Dubhe and Merak, the Pointers. It’s more practical to hold the map in front of you when looking south and then rotate it as you face east, south and west. Some readers are confused because east is on the left, opposite to terrestrial maps, but that’s because they’re the other way up. When you’re facing south and looking at the sky, east is on your left.
The star patterns are the same for each month of each year, and only the positions of the planets change. (“Astronomy Handbook” accidentally shows Saturn in Virgo during May, showing that the maps weren’t originally drawn for the Hausman book.) Consequently regular readers for a year will by then have built up a complete set of twelve.