Martin Lunn, of Earby Astronomical Society, tells us what to look out for in the skies in March.

MARS, the red planet, has been a beacon in the sky for many months but is now sinking low in the south west.

However, Mars will be involved in three lovely sights during March.

During the first week of the month, Mars will be seen just below the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, star cluster.

The best time to look for Mars and the Seven Sisters will be at around 7 pm.

The Seven Sisters is a cluster which can be found in the constellation of Taurus the Bull.

It looks like a fuzzy patch in the sky and can easily been seen without any form of optical aid, and in any case Mars will help you to identify it.

However, don’t be fooled into believing that Mars is really close to the Seven Sisters, because while Mars is around 50 million miles away the Seven Sisters lie at a distance of around 440 light years. A light year is equal to about 6 million million miles!!

Secondly, by the middle of the month the red planet will lie between the Seven Sisters and the Hyades, another star cluster in Taurus which forms a ‘V’ shaped pattern and appears to surround the bright star Aldebaran.

Here again we have a situation where Aldebaran appears to be part of the Hyades but it is simply a line of sight effect.

This is because while Aldebaran lies at a distance of about 66 light years away, the Hyades are about 150 light years away.

Thirdly, on March 19, there will be the wonderful sight of the crescent moon between Mars and Aldebaran.

March is the last of the months for observing the winter constellations as the stars of spring are becoming more noticeable in the sky.

The familiar shape of the Plough is very high in the sky and will reach its highest point over the next couple of months. It is probably the best known of all the groups of stars.

There are seven stars forming this group; three stars form a curved line which can be seen as the handle of the Plough, with four stars that form a rectangle shape which can be imagined as the blade.

If you locate the two stars furthest from the handle, they are referred to as ‘the pointers’.

Draw a line from the right hand star through the left hand star and then continue for about five times the distance between these two stars and you will reach a star all on its own.

It is not the brightest star in the sky but it is one of the most important: the North Star.

If you continue the line from the pointers past the North Star you will see a group of stars forming the shape of a letter ‘W’ or ‘M’ depending on which way you are looking at it.

This is the constellation of Cassiopeia. The Plough and Cassiopeia can be seen all year round, and when the Plough is high in the sky Cassiopeia will be low down and vice versa.

The Plough and Orion are what astronomers refer to as signposts in the sky because they are so well known that people can use them to identify other bright stars.

Learning your way around the night sky might be thought of in the same way as trying to do a jigsaw puzzle. You will need some important stars to help you solve the jigsaw and the Plough and Orion can help you do just that.

Orion, which has dominated the winter skies, is now dropping west towards the horizon, but can still easily be found as soon as it becomes dark.

The red star Aldebaran in Taurus, and the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, are much lower down in the west and by the end of the month will be difficult to see.

This will also apply to Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, which is low down in the south west but can still be found during the first half of the month by using Orion’s belt and drawing a line down and to the left.

Of the other winter stars, Capella, which until recently occupied the overhead point, can now be found to the west of overhead, while the star Vega in Lyra, which is part of the Summer Triangle, can now be seen rising low in the north east.

The other bright winter stars, Procyon in Canis Minor and Castor and Pollux in Gemini, can still be found high in the south west but are now past their best.

The Planets in March:

I am afraid that, with the exception of Mars, our planet drought continues as the other naked eye planets: Mercury; Venus; Jupiter and Saturn are still too close to the Sun to be seen.

Meteor Showers:

There are no major meteor showers this month.

Phases of the Moon for March:

Last Quarter March 6; New Moon March 13; First Quarter March 2; Full Moon March 28.

The Full Moon in March is called the Lenten Moon, as it has to fall in the religious period of Lent. Lent lasts from Ash Wednesday until Easter.

The Spring Equinox occurs on March 20 marking the point when spring starts in the Northern Hemisphere and autumn starts in the Southern Hemisphere.

The word ‘equinox’ comes from the Latin words aequi, which means equal, and nox, which means night.

At this instant the Sun lies above the equator and both poles of the planet are illuminated, meaning that on this day the length of daylight and night time are the same.

On March 28, British Summer Time or BST begins. The clocks will go forward an hour. Astronomers tend to dislike this artificial manoeuvre, which means we have to stay up later to wait for darkness.

Due to the current coronavirus situation there will be no meetings of the Earby Astronomical Society until further notice.