May 21, 2018
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Comet’s appearance highlights March astronomical events

William H. Lowry | BDN
William H. Lowry | BDN
By Clair Wood

Asteroids and meteorites made the news in February, and now this month’s astronomical headline will feature a comet. Comet PanSTARRS was discovered in 2011 in the far reaches of the solar system and will make its closest approach to Earth on March 5 at 100 million miles. It will be visible low in the west after sunset and slowly make its way across the sky throughout the month. It is expected to be visible to the naked eye with a brightness similar to the stars in Orion’s belt or the Big Dipper.

On March 12-13, the comet will appear very near the crescent moon. But almost any clear night should be good for observing so, as one comet watcher remarked, simply “Look in the direction of the sunset just after the sun has gone down and the comet will be just above the horizon.”

Focus on the planets

This is a poor month for planet watchers as only two will prove other than extremely difficult or impossible to see.

Mercury may peek over the southeast the last day or two of the month but likely will be washed out by the bright dawn light.

Venus reaches superior conjunction, on the opposite side of the sun from Earth, and is invisible all month.

Mars is just above the western horizon a half hour after sunset on March 1, giving the only chance of seeing the Red Planet this month.

Jupiter is one of the two visible planets this month, lying well up on the southwestern horizon at dusk. As always, the moons of Jupiter put on a show as they do their dance around and in front of the giant planet.

Saturn rises in the southeast shortly before midnight and is highest in the early predawn sky. The rings are tilted so that the division between them remains prominent and the moon Titan is easily spotted with a telescope.

Uranus is extremely low in the west and sets two hours after the sun. The chances of seeing it are very unlikely as are the chances of seeing Neptune in the near-dawn southeastern sky.

March events

1: Sunrise, 6:14 a.m.; sunset, 5:22 p.m.

2: Saturn resembles a bright golden star just above the moon at dawn.

4: Moon in last quarter, 4:54 p.m.

5: The moon is at perigee or closest approach to the Earth today.

10: Set your clocks forward one hour as the nation goes from standard time to daylight saving time.

11: New moon, 3:53 p.m. The sun enters Pisces on the ecliptic.

15: The Ides of March, a bad day for Julius Caesar!

17: Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by checking out the western horizon at 9 p.m. where the crescent moon is joined by Jupiter to its upper right and Aldebaran to its lower left.

19: Moon in first quarter, 1:26 p.m.

20: Spring or vernal equinox, 7:01 a.m. The sun crosses the equator into the northern hemisphere in the astrological sign of Aries but astronomically is still in Pisces.

27: Full moon, 5:29 a.m. The full moon of March is called the Worm Moon, Crow Moon and Sap Moon. As the full moon nearest the spring equinox, it is also the Paschal Moon.

29: Saturn lies directly above the moon on the southeastern horizon at 11 p.m. Earlier in the evening Jupiter is high in the west with Aldebaran to its lower left.

31: Easter. The moon is at perigee or nearest approach to Earth. Sunrise, 6:19 a.m.; sunset, 7:01 p.m.

Send astronomical queries to Clair Wood at or care of the Bangor Daily News, Style Desk, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402.

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