Monthly Sky Guide: March 2002
This month sees the appearance of a new comet in the evening sky, Comet Ikeya-Zhang, and the return of the "evening star", Venus.
JUPITER in Gemini is the bright "star" that shines high overhead soon after sunset. Jupiter however offers much more than just a distant pinpoint of light. A look through a telescope will reveal a distinctly flattened disc covered in swirling cloud belts and with up to four moons lined up on either side. Observe the moons a few hours apart and you will notice a change in their relative position. On the evening of March 22nd skywatchers throughout Asia and Australia will be treated to a beautiful close pairing of the Moon and Jupiter. The event is centered at 12h UT.
SATURN in Taurus is presently about 90 from the Sun relative to Earth. Known as quadrature this is also when the shadow cast by Saturn's globe onto its rings appears longest. Through a telescope the ringed planet appears to have more depth than usual. Can you see this effect? In the early evening of March 20th skywatchers in north-east Asia and Japan can watch Saturn glide behind the Moon. The occultation is centered at 11h UT March 20th.
VENUS, the brightest planet, can now be seen about 30 minutes after sunset. Look just above the western horizon for a brilliant white "star." Another way to locate Venus this month is to extend an imaginary line along the ecliptic (see map) from the planets Jupiter - Saturn - Mars all the way down to Venus. On March 15th the crescent Moon will be above and to the left of Venus for skywatchers in North America.
MARS moves quickly across most of Aries during the month.
MERCURY in the morning sky but too low to be easily seen from mid-northern latitudes.
COMET IKEYA-ZHANG (C/2002 C1) [Northern Hemisphere only] was discovered on February 1st and will be closest to the Sun (perihelion) on March 18th. The comet will brighten as it nears the Sun and is expected to become a nice binocular or telescope object later this month. The brightness of comets is difficult to predict with certainty so it is possible that Comet Ikeya-Zhang could even become visible to the naked-eye! Look for the comet in the west northwestern sky about 1 hour after sunset. The sky map shows the path of Comet Ikeya-Zhang through to mid-April.
Clear skies till next month!
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