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Friday 23 February 2018  •   8 Ash Moon 2018

Viewing the night sky in Ash Moon 2018

16 February - 17 March 2018

Map of night sky at full moon: 2 March, 00:51 UTC
Northern hemisphere perspective, aligned on the ecliptic. Morning sky to the left, evening to the right.

night sky map for Ash Moon 2018

Venus becomes visible in the evening sky in the second half of the lunar month, gradually pulling away from the sunset, more easily seen from Earth’s northern hemisphere, where, by the end of the month, it shines obviously in the darkening west.

Mercury reaches 18.4° east of the sun in the western evening sky on 15 March. It isn’t a particularly wide elongation, but it gives sky watchers in the northern hemisphere an excellent chance to see the elusive planet in the evening sky, with Venus nearby. The view from the southern hemisphere is poor.

Saturn, Mars and Jupiter are in the morning sky, in that order out from the sunrise. Saturn is in the northern part of Sagittarius, Mars is in Ophiuchus and Jupiter is among the stars of Libra. At the start of the lunar month, Mars is noticeably dimmer than the other two. It moves faster through the stars than the more distant planets, and during the course of the month draws nearer to Saturn. It also brightens as it comes closer to Earth, and by the end of the month, it is as bright as Saturn, and is with it in Sagittarius.

Mid-month, Jupiter rises around midnight, with Mars and Saturn following in the early hours. On the night of 6/7 March the moon is near Jupiter. The moon is near Mars on the morning of 10 March. The moon is near Saturn on the morning of 11 March. On 9 March, Jupiter halts its slow eastward movement through the stars of Libra, and heads back westwards, as Earth comes round in its orbit towards Jupiter, moving faster than Jupiter. It is as if we were in a fast-moving train, seeing a slower train some way away, appear to go backwards against a distant hill.

The month ahead: Alder Moon 2018

18 March - 15 April 2018

Map of night sky at full moon: 31 March, 12:37 UTC
Northern hemisphere perspective, aligned on the ecliptic. Morning sky to the left, evening to the right.

night sky map for Alder Moon 2018

Mercury is visible to northern hemisphere viewers at the start of the lunar month, in the western sky after sunset. The brighter planet Venus is nearby, making Mercury easy to find.

On the evening of 18 March, the very new crescent moon is below Venus and Mercury, and a little to the south. As seen from northern lands, Mercury is above and to the right of Venus. From the southern hemisphere, you may just be able to see Venus to the right of the moon immediately after sunset, but Mercury is out of view.

On 19 March, the moon is above the pair. Mercury is on its way back towards the horizon (and this side of the sun), and dims over the next few days, as it becomes more crescent-like as seen from Earth. Venus passes it on 20 March. From northern lands, look for Mercury about four degrees (eight moon widths) to the right of Venus in the west after sunset. After a couple more days, it becomes hard to see in the twilight. Venus continues to rise slowly above the sunset, and in the early hours of 29 March, out of sight of Europe, but visible from much of North America, it passes just four minutes of arc south of Uranus, easily inside the same binocular and small telescope field. Uranus is just too faint to be seen with the naked eye under normal conditions. As seen on the evening of 28 March from Europe, Venus is 15 minutes of arc from Uranus.

Jupiter is bright and prominent in the night and morning sky, albeit relatively low down as seen from the northern hemisphere. It rises in the late evening. On the night 3/4 April, the moon is nearby.

Rising in the early hours are Mars and Saturn. At the start of the lunar month the planets are about the same brightness, though Mars should appear the redder of the two. Mars is further out from the sunrise, rising first. As the month proceeds, Mars approaches the ringed planet in the sky, and also gets brighter as in fact it gets closer to Earth. Watch as they change from night to night. On 2 April, Mars passes just over a degree south of Saturn in the constellation Sagittarius. On the mornings of 7 and 8 April, the moon is near the Mars-Saturn pair. Mars is by then noticeably brighter than Saturn and nearer the horizon.

Mercury passes this side of the sun on 1 April, and appears in the southern hemisphere’s morning sky in the last week of the lunar month. On the morning of 14 April, only visible from the south, the very old crescent moon is near Mercury.

William Morris
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