This month features a few rather important, exciting events to look out for. March is a great time of year for checking out the winter stuff in the early evening and getting a taste of summer objects in the late night/early morning.
In the early evening, expect some nice views of the Orion Nebula, The Messier clusters M36, 37, and 38 in Auriga. Open cluster M35 is northeast of Orion constellation in Gemini. Farther northeast near the main stars Castor and Pollux, have a look at the small, but luminescent planetary nebula NGC 2392. It should be readily visible in a 6 inch telescope.
Coming back to Orion, NGC 1999, 10th magnitude nebula faintly connected to M42 is just south of the Sword of Orion. Appears as a faintly glowing irregularly shaped disk with bright central star. M78 is in Orion as well, relatively bright nebula with 2 stars involved in the main nebulosity, a faint fan shaped nebula is seen generally. Of course there’s the Horsehead nebula complex, that requires dark skies and a larger telescope and much patience, I wouldn’t bother with it in the city. However, on very clear nights here in La Verne, sometimes the Flame nebula (NGC 2024) can be glimpsed in the 12.5″ with low power and wide fields. The Pleiades are a great target in most scopes, and for a clear night challenge try for the Merope nebula (NGC1435), faint nebula engulfing the brighter portions of the cluster.
Jupiter will make for some nice observing for most of the night, until around midnight it gets lower in the horizon to where atmospheric conditions will detract from the views. The great red spot is showing much more color than in previous years, if you know when it’s visible and what to be looking for, it’s visible even in a 60mm (2.4″) refractor telescope.
The M82 supernova, formally designated as SN2014J has passed it’s peak and is slowly fading. It’s brightness is a little fainter than 10th magnitude, still well within limits of amateur telescopes.
On March 20th the star Regulus, mag 1.4 in Leo will be occulted by asteroid (163) Erigone and will completely block out the light of the star for a maximum of 14 seconds. If your on the east coast, your in luck. It occurs around 2 AM EST. I wish I could see it firsthand; it will be well documented I’m sure of that. All the information is available here.
In the early morning, a multitude of objects will become visible. Mars will rise around 9PM and a steady view probably won’t be achieved until more than hour after. Saturn rises at 11PM and a steady view will require more than an hour as well. Ursa Major culminates a little after midnight, the best time to check out planetary nebula M97, and galaxy M108, visible together in a wide vield of view just south of the “bowl” of the big dipper. Galaxies M51 and M63 are in prime spots for viewing, as well as M94 in Canis Vernatici. From 1AM on is a great time for viewing the Coma-Virgo galaxy cluster, located in, you guessed it- Coma Bernices and Virgo. This area of sky is so rich with galaxies it becomes very difficult to identify galaxies within heavily light polluted skies. Dark skies are highly recommended for this area. If you can, have a look at Markarian’s Chain, a big “river” of galaxies including the bright Messiers M84 and M87. Many fainter galaxies are part of this and it makes for a wonderful low power view of galaxies. Other galaxies such as M64, M87 and NGC 4565 are all nice to see from this time on. In the south, the famous Sombrero Galaxy, M104 culminates at 1:30AM in the south, located in Virgo about 15 degrees West of the bright star Spica. Seen pretty easily in a 6 inch reflector.
Early morning to dawn will give a taste of the summer objects, including the Ring Nebula in Lyra, the Veil Nebula in Cygnus. M13, the famous globular cluster in Hercules should be very good in this time of morning. Messier globular clusters M10, M12, and M14 in Ophiuchus. Scorpio will be up, check out globs M4, M80, M62, M9. Venus rises at 3:45 and is a bright mag -4.5.
Take note that as the month wears on the moon will be increasing in size, and most early evening objects can be seen undisturbed by even a first quarter moon. Anything past that and it starts to drown out DSO’s. Which only can mean one thing… observe the moon!!! Hope this helps you out in planning your next outing.