Manitoba Skies – March 2021
March brings the official start of spring and another “spring ahead” into Daylight Savings Time. It also marks a turning point in the sky, as the winter constellations continue their slide to the west and the spring stars rise to prominence. You’ll also likely hear about a grouping of planets in the early-morning sky in March, but they will be very difficult to see from the latitude of Manitoba.
There have also been several good showings of the northern lights, or aurora borealis, in late February and early March. These elusive lights change hour to hour and can’t be well-predicted, but you can learn how, when, and where to see them at one of our virtual planetarium workshops, “Chasing the Northern Lights”.
Mercury is in the pre-dawn sky, but the angle of the ecliptic (the planets’ path through the sky) is very low, and so Mercury doesn’t rises very high above the horizon before the sun does.
Venus is passing just below the sun on the far side of its orbit this month, and so isn’t visible. It will reappear in the evening sky later in the spring.
Mars is still high in the southwest at sunset, although it has faded considerably since its peak last fall. It’s on the far side of its orbit from our point of view, making it relatively faint and small – even in a telescope, you won’t see much. Luckily, the recent Mars probes are giving us amazing close-up views of the Red Planet – you can see those from the Perseverance rover at https://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/mars2020 .
Jupiter is very low in the predawn sky, but hard to see for the same reason Mercury is (see above). Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, and the Moon have several days of close approaches in the early part of March, but this will be nearly impossible to observe from Canadian latitudes.
Saturn is in the pre-dawn sky, slightly easier to spot than Jupiter and Mercury because it is farther from the sun. Still a difficult observation in the morning sky.
Both Jupiter and Saturn will be rising higher each month and will put on a good show in spring and summer of 2021.
All times are given in Central Standard Time (UTC-6), the regular time for Manitoba this month.
Monday, 1 Mar 2021 (evening sky): Mars is passing near the Pleaides star cluster for the next several nights, fitting comfortably into the field-of-view of most common binoculars. This is a perfect time to compare the reddish hue of Mars with the blue-white colour of the young stars in the Pleiades.
Thursday, 4 Mar 2021 (evening): Our weekly astronomy show, [email protected], goes live at 7 p.m. Central.
Friday, 5 Mar 2021: Last Quarter Moon.
Saturday, 13 Mar 2021: New Moon.
Thursday, 11 Mar 2021 (evening): Our weekly astronomy show, [email protected], goes live at 7 p.m. Central.
Thursday 18 Mar 2021 (evening sky): The Moon makes a nice pairing with Mars, the red star Aldebaran, and the Pleiades star cluster. We’ll talk more about this event on our weekly astronomy show, [email protected], which goes live at 7 p.m. Central.
Friday, 19 Mar 2021 (evening sky): The Moon has passed Mars, but is closer to the red planet than last night.
Saturday, 20 Mar 2021: The Vernal Equinox occurs at 4:37 a.m. Central Daylight Time, marking the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere.
Sunday, 21 Mar 2021: First Quarter Moon.
Thursday, 25 Mar 2021 (evening): Our weekly astronomy show, [email protected], goes live at 7 p.m. Central.
Sunday, 28 Mar 2021: Full Moon.
To see when the International Space Station passes over southern Manitoba, click here. You can find times for other locations across Manitoba and throughout the world, as well as times for other orbiting objects, by visiting Heavens-above.com and entering your location here.