March 2024 Stargazing Guide

Posted on Friday, March 8th, 2024

Greetings junior scientists, scientists and citizens this great big weird, wild and wonderful world in which we live. As always I'm your humble science communicator, the great Orbax coming to you from the Department of Physics at the University of Guelph and I'd like to welcome you to our March 2024 Star Gazing Guide!

Well junior scientists, we've made it through another increasingly bizarre winter. Over the last few months since the Winter Solstice our daylight hours have been growing but are even more noticeable now. With Daylight Savings on March 10th, we spring forward by an hour and our sunset rockets ahead by over 90 minutes from 6:11 p.m. on March 1st to 7:47 p.m. by March 31st.

The shift only slightly affects our sunrise though moving up from 6:56 a.m. to 7:03 a.m.

But this month, as we enter into spring, we officially cross the line of having more daytime hours than nighttime hours.

As we look to the skies this month we say hello to Mercury, witness a penumbral lunar eclipse and learn about the vernal equinox. All this and more if we just take some time... to look up.

Orion and Gemini continue to dominate our skies while Canis Minor and, in particular, Procyon are highly visible throughout the night sky in March. This month marks a decrease in visibility in all the planets that we've made friends with over the winter.

Saturn is too close to the Sun to see it well right now, as is Mars, and Jupiter is quickly losing its luster... but there's a chance to catch one last gorgeous view on March 13th as it nears the crescent of the waxing Moon. Venus will be greeting us as the brightest object in the morning sky all month but our new pal this month is Mercury. Mercury will be at its greatest Eastern Elongation on March 24th meaning it'll be at its highest point in the sky shining bright from Sunset till about 9:00 p.m. when it sets in the West.

Our Full Moon this month occurs on March 25th and is known as the Worm Moon. Every month we look at names and stories of indigenous cultures for the Moon and its connection to Nature. The Ojibwe of the Great Lakes region call the March full moon Ziissbaakdoke-giizis or Sugar Moon. While other peoples of the area refer to it as Hard Crust on the Snow Moon. The Cree signify the return of the majestic bird by calling it The Eagle Moon.

Now... Full moons are, by definition, always opposite to the sun in the sky – so they rise in the east as the sun sets, and set in the west at sunrise – which occurs every 29.53 days. New moons occur in the opposite scenario, when the moon crosses the directional line between Earth and Sun and therefore appears to be dark since we cannot see any reflected light from it. Most of the time this is uneventful – the 5 degree tilt of the Moon’s orbit to the plane of the Earth’s orbit means that often the Moon is too high or too low for the shadows cast by the sun to really have much effect. But about every 18 months, the Moon will be new or full and directly line up with the Earth and the Sun causing a solar or lunar eclipse to occur. In fact, we usually get both, separated by about two weeks. This month our Full Moon on the 25th will experience a penumbral lunar eclipse, a slight darkening caused by the Earth’s shadow on the Moon followed by a Total Solar Eclipse on Monday, April 8th when the moon’s shadow blocks our view of the Sun! For more information about the upcoming Solar Eclipse check out our What, Why and How videos.

This month we'll see the first day of Spring and here's why! We all remember that the Earth is tilted at 23.5° with respect to the line perpendicular to the plane of our orbit around the sun. One Earth year corresponds to one full solar orbit. In December we talked about the Winter Solstice. The one day each year that the North Pole is tilted its furthest distance away from the Sun resulting in the fewest daylight hours for us here in North America. Conversely, the Summer Solstice is the one day each year when the North Pole is tipped closest towards the sun resulting in the most daylight hours that we experience. On Tuesday March 19th is the Vernal Equinox. On this day, halfway between the Winter and the Summer Solstice, we experience equal amounts of daylight and nighttime hours and in North America this denotes the first day of Spring. This phenomenon occurs again in 6 months when we've traveled 180° through our orbit around the Sun. We call this the Autumnal Equinox and this year will take place on September 22nd denoting the first day of Autumn.

Our cosmos spirals forward as the stars and nebula, planets and asteroids that make up our Universe continue to interact in ways governed by beautiful mathematics. Laws that Humanity has been able to use and interpret to predict the next steps in this dance... and these laws, this dance, is all there just waiting for you to learn about it and all you have to do is take some time...
to look up.

See you next month junior scientists and don't forget to have a science-tastic day!

Special thanks to Royal City Science's own planetary geochemist Dr Glynis Perrett for her help preparing our Star Gazing Guide. And the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.


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