Sky at a Glance March 10 – 17

Photo showing location of 7 Messier objects (Deep Sky Objects) in the constellation Ursa Major.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, March 10 – 17 ~by Curt Nason

For stargazers, early spring means it is time for a Messier Marathon. In 1758 a French comet hunter, Charles Messier, started compiling a catalogue of nebulous objects in the sky that resembled comets but weren’t. His completed catalogue was issued 13 years later with 103 objects. In the mid-20th century the catalogue was expanded to 110 based on Messier’s notes. Under a clear, dark sky all of the Messier objects can be seen in a small scope. It is a rite of passage for amateur astronomers to locate and observe all them.

The Messier catalogue includes 57 star clusters, 40 galaxies, 12 nebulae of new or dying stars, and an enigmatic pair of stars. The first on the list, called M1, is the Crab Nebula, the gaseous remnant of a supernova that was seen in daylight in 1054. M110 is a galaxy seen near M31, the Andromeda galaxy. The easiest to see is M45, the star cluster also known as the Pleiades or Seven Sisters. The Orion Nebula, a stellar nursery in the Hunter’s sword, is M42, with the much less spectacular M43 nearby. Ursa Major has seven Messiers including M51, the Whirlpool galaxy, and M97, the Owl Nebula.

For a few weeks in March and April, around the time of a new Moon, it is possible to see all the Messier objects in one night, hence the Messier Marathon. However, from New Brunswick one of them rises in bright twilight and is somewhere between very difficult and impossible to see at this time of year. That won’t keep some stellar stalwarts from trying.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:41 am and sunset will occur at 6:18 pm, giving 11 hours, 37 minutes of daylight (6:46 am and 6:23 pm in Saint John). With the time change this weekend, next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:28 am and set at 7:27 pm, giving 11 hours, 59 minutes of daylight (7:33 am and 7:32 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Friday, March 9 and new on March 17. It makes a broad triangle with Saturn and Mars on the morning of March 10. Jupiter is rising before midnight but is still best for observing in the morning. Mercury is at its greatest elongation from the Sun on Thursday, when it is within a binocular view to the upper right of brighter Venus.

The William Brydone Astronomy Club meets on Tuesday at 7 pm in the UNB Forestry / Earth Sciences Building in Fredericton. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

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