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The night sky for March 2015

Northern Hemisphere

Ian Morison tells us what we can see in the northern hemisphere night sky during March 2015.

Orion, Taurus, Gemini and Canis Major are setting in the west in the evening. Gemini is the highest of these, with its bright stars Castor and Pollux representing the Heavenly Twins. Further east is Cancer, whose Beehive Cluster can be seen with binoculars and which is currently home to the planet Jupiter. Further over still is Leo the Lion, with its bright star Regulus. Bootes, containing the star Arcturus, is rising in the east. The Plough, an asterism within Ursa Major, is high overhead, its back two stars, Merak and Dubhe, pointing towards Polaris, the North Star. Capella, the yellow star in Auriga, is also high in the sky.

The Planets


Southern Hemisphere

Claire Bretherton from the Carter Observatory in New Zealand speaks about the southern hemisphere night sky during March 2015.

The evenings are drawing in as the autumnal equinox passes on the 21st. The summer constellations of Canis Major, Orion and Taurus are in the north-western evening sky. The brightest star in the night sky, Sirius - Takurua to Maori - is almost overhead, with Rigel and Betelgeuse below. Between them is Orion's Belt, three stars that are known as Tautoru in New Zealand. It points down through the head of Taurus the Bull, which contains the Orange star Aldebaran as the Bull's Eye. This V-shape also hosts the Hyades Cluster. For observers with binoculars or a telescope, over 100 stars brighter than 9th magnitude can be seen. Below the V and near the horizon is the Pleiades Cluster, representing the half-sisters of the Hyades in Greek mythology. Called Matariki in New Zealand, their first pre-dawn rising each June marks the Maori New Year.

The second-brightest night-time star, Canopus, is high in the south-west, with the blue star Achernar slightly below. The two of them form a near-equilateral triangle with the south celestial pole, around which the sky appears to rotate. Although this point lacks a nearby bright star, the constellation of Crux (the Southern Cross) helps to locate it. High in the south-east in the evening, Crux is accompanied by the Pointer Stars, Alpha and Beta Centauri. To find the pole, point one hand at Gamma Crucis, the star at the short end of the Cross, point the other hand at Achernar and then bring the two hands together in the middle. This should point you south.

The two dwarf galaxies known as the Magellanic Clouds are visible to the naked eye as two fuzzy patches near to the south celestial pole. Each contains billions of stars, and the Large Magellanic Cloud is the higher of the two. Binoculars or a small telescope can pick out some of its star clusters as individual patches of light within it. A bridge of gas connects it to the Small Magellanic Cloud, demonstrating tidal interaction between the two. It is easiest to spot them around New Moon on the 20th, when they are high in the south after dark.


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The Night Sky This Month is one part of the Jodcast. The full show contains the latest news, interviews with astronomers, answers to listener questions and more.

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