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2014 March

All dates and times are NZDT (UT + 13 hours) unless otherwise specified.

Sunrise at Wellington ranges from 7.00 am to 7.34 am through March while Sunset ranges from 8.06 pm to 7.17 pm.

The southern autumnal equinox is on March 21 at 5 am.

PHASES OF THE MOON (times as shown by GUIDE)

New moon:        March 1 at 9.00 pm (08:00 UT)

First quarter:     March 9 at 2.27 am (Mar 8, 13:27 UT)

Full moon:          March 17 at 6.08 am (Mar 16, 17:08 UT)

Last quarter       March 24 at 2.46 pm (01:46 UT)

New moon:        March 31 at 7.45 am (Mar 30, 18:45 UT)

Two New Moons in March make up for the lack of a New Moon in February


Four of the five naked eye planets are stationary within a few days of one another at the end of February and early March. Mercury is stationary on February 28, about midday NZDT, Mars is stationary on March 2 at 9am, Saturn follows 32 hours later in the afternoon of March 3 and finally Jupiter on March 6 at 11 pm. This means that the positions of Mars, Saturn and Jupiter will not change much during the March.

Venus and Mercury are well placed for viewing in the morning sky. Mars is visible from late evening, Saturn later still. Both are highest in the morning sky. Jupiter is visible all evening.

MERCURY is at its best in the morning sky for the year. It brightens from magnitude 1.0 to -0.1 during the month. The planet rises a hundred minutes before the Sun on the 1st and more than two hours before the Sun from the 5th for the rest of the month. At its best for some days in the middle of the month, the planet rises two and a quarter hours earlier than the Sun. Thus Mercury will be readily visible in the early dawn sky.

The planet spends much of the month crossing Aquarius, although between March 7 and 16 it will cross a lobe of Capricornus. On the morning of March 23 Neptune will be just over a degree to the left of, and slightly lower than Mercury. Sigma Aqr, mag 4.8 will be 40 arc-minutes left of Mercury (with a 6.4 star midway between them). Neptune, mag 8.0, will be just over 40 minutes below and left of sigma. All should be visible in binoculars.

On the morning of March 29 the moon, a very thin crescent 5.5% lit, will be 7° to the left of Mercury.

VENUS, also in the morning sky will be to the upper left of Mercury, the two being just over 20° apart all month. Venus is, of course, far the brighter object with a magnitude around -4.5. It rises at close to the same time all month, between 3.30 and 3.40 am at Wellington. It spends most of the month crossing Capricornus after moving into the constellation from Sagittarius on the 7th.

At the beginning of March Venus will be just over 0.5 AU, 76 million km, from the Earth when it will be a broad crescent 36% lit. By the end of March its distance from the Earth will have increased to 0.74 AU, 111 million km. It will then be 54% lit. The increase in the sunlit fraction of the planet almost compensates for its increased distance so the change in brightness will not be noticeable.

The planet is at its greatest elongation, 47° west of the Sun on March 23. The 21% waning Moon will be just over 7° to the upper left of Venus on the morning of March 28 and 7° below Venus the following morning when it is 12% lit.

MARS moves more into the evening sky during March, rising about 10 pm on the 1st and 8 pm on the 31st. On the 1st it will be 120 million km from the Earth and have a magnitude -0.5. By the 31st its distance will have dropped to 95.5 million km resulting in the planet brightening to magnitude -1.3. So it will be an obvious bright object in the late evening sky a few degrees below Spica in Virgo.

Mars will be very low and to the east late evening at the beginning of the month, but rather higher and further round towards the northeast at the same time by the month´s end.

The planet is highest about 5.40 am on March 1 and 3.20 am on the 31st. At transit it will be quite high in New Zealand sky, with the reddish star Arcturus nearly 30° below.

The 97% lit moon joins Mars and Spica on the evening of March 18. Late evening the moon will be 6.5° left of Spica and 8.5° to the upper left of Mars. Before dawn the following morning the grouping will be tighter with the moon now 3.5° from the star and 6° from the planet.

JUPITER is readily visible all evening. On March 1 it transits, so is highest and due north, at 9.40 pm; on the 31st at 7.47 pm, shortly after sunset. With a declination close to that of the mid-winter Sun, the planet will be fairly low in NZ skies, especially as seen from the south of the country. Jupiter sets well after 12 midnight early in the month, but only a few minutes after by the 31st. So the planet will then be getting low late evening. Its distance from the Earth increases from 696 million km on the 1st to 765 million km on the 31st.

Jupiter is in Gemini all month, about 2° from the 3.0 magnitude star epsilon Gem. Its close encounter with the moon is on March 10. The two are closest late evening, with the 67% lit moon just over 4° from the planet.

SATURN rises about 11.15 pm on March 1, 2 hours earlier by the 31st. Saturn will be about 30° from Mars. Since Saturn is further south than Mars, it will get higher in the sky as seen in the pre-dawn sky. The planet will be visible to the east late evening by the end of March. It will then be to the lower right of Mars. With a magnitude 0.3 it will be a lot less bright than Mars, but still one of the brightest objects in the sky. Its distance from the Earth decreases from 1430 million km to 1368 million km during the month.

The planet remains in Libra during March. Late on the evening of March 21 the 78% lit moon will be just over 4° to the lower right of Saturn. The two will be visible rather low a little to the south of east from about 11 pm. By the following morning the moon will be some 7.5° from Saturn. Earlier in the afternoon of the 21st the moon will occult Saturn, an event visible in a region from Brazil across the South Atlantic to South Africa.



Uranus will reach conjunction with the Sun on April 2, so will be too low in the as the evening sky darkens following sunset to observe.

Neptune is less than 5° from the Sun on March 1, by the end of March it will rise almost 3 hours before the Sun and be nearly 20° above the eastern horizon 1 hour before the Sun rises. The planet will then be almost midway between Mercury and Venus. Mercury passes Neptune on March 23, when the two are just over a degree apart in the morning sky. See Mercury for more details.



(1) Ceres and (4) Vesta continue to be a close pair of asteroids throughout March. The two are in Virgo on the opposite side of Mars to Spica. On the 1st they will be about 9° from Mars, and 3.3° apart, with Ceres at magnitude 7.7 and Vesta at 6.6. By the 31st when they will be about 12° from Mars, their separation will have reduced to 2.5° and they will both be 0.7 magnitudes brighter.

(2) Pallas starts March at magnitude 7.0, so brighter than Ceres. In is then in the constellation Sextans, close to its boundary with Hydra and 3.75° from 2.0 magnitude star alpha Hya. By the 4th, Pallas will have crossed into Hydra, but for the rest of the month will move north close to the two constellations´ boundary. By the 31st it will have faded to magnitude 7.6. On the 19th Pallas will be almost midway between the stars iota Hya (mag 3.5) and tau2 Hya (mag 4.6).

Pallas is in the evening sky, with a transit at 12.38 am on the 1st and 10.30 pm on the 31st.

Brian Loader