Good-bye, Winter—Hello, Spring!
Look up with the March 2017 sky map to navigate the stars and constellations in the night sky. On this page is both a color sky map and a black and white printable map to bring outside!
Just click here or on the image below to open the printable map—then bring outside!
Good-bye, Winter—Hello, Spring!
March is a turning point. The weather is warming and spring arrives in the Northern Hemisphere on March 20. In the evening sky of March, we enjoy our last good look at the brilliant constellations of winter before they slip below the horizon until their return later in the year.
Orion, the Hunter, brightest of all constellations, is well placed for viewing in mid-March. The three stars of Orion’s belt form a straight horizontal line, with ruddy star Betelgeuse above them and blue-white Rigel below. An imaginary line from Betelgeuse to Rigel passes right through the Belt. Take the opportunity to compare the colors of Betelgeuse and Rigel. Star colors are notoriously subtle, but the contrast between these two is readily apparent.
To the right of Orion is another reddish star, Aldebaran, in Taurus, the Bull. Aldebaran marks one end of a V-shape pattern of stars forming the face of Taurus. The Bull’s horns jut upward from the V. The dense group of stars at the apex of the V are members of a famous star cluster called the Hyades (HIGH-uh-deez). It’s the closest open (loose) star cluster to Earth and thus is of great interest to astronomers. The surprise is that Aldebaran is not a member of the cluster. Despite appearances, Aldebaran is much closer to us than the Hyades; it’s merely a chance alignment that places it at one end of the V.
March Sky Map
Click here or on image below to enlarge this map (PDF).
Sky map produced using Chris Marriott’s Skymap Pro
To the right of Taurus is another well-known star cluster, the Pleiades (PLEE-uh-deez). Sharp-eyed observers will see several individual stars when looking at this cluster. Those with less keen vision will see nothing but a hazy blob of light.
The right-hand horn of Taurus reaches upward, all the way to the star Elnath, which appears to belong both to Taurus and to five-sided Auriga, the Charioteer. Ancient astronomers considered Elnath to be shared between the two constellations, but the modern interpretation places it in Taurus.
Taurus’s other horn points to Gemini, the Twins. In Greek mythology, Castor and Pollux were born of the same mother but had different fathers. Pollux’s father was the god Zeus, making Pollux immortal. Castor’s father was mortal, so Castor, too, was mortal. When Castor was killed in the Trojan War, Pollux was so distraught that Zeus made Castor immortal so that the half-brothers could be forever together in the sky. At this time of year, the stick figures of the Twins are easy to spot, standing upright and holding hands.
From Gemini, we move left and downward to the tiny constellation Canis Minor, the Lesser Dog. Only the presence of the bright star Procyon makes Canis Minor noteworthy. Beneath the Lesser Dog is Monoceros, the Unicorn, which contains no bright stars at all. In fact, if your sky is light-polluted, Monoceros’s patch of sky may look completely empty.
In any case, your eyes will most likely be drawn to the bright star Sirius in Canis Major, the Greater Dog. Sirius is more than just an ordinary bright star; it is the brightest star in the night sky. If you are a fan of the Harry Potter stories, you will no doubt agree that author J. K. Rowling got it just right when she chose Sirius as the name for one of the brightest and most heroic characters in the Potter series.
Enjoy astronomy? Check out Bob Berman’s column, “This Week’s Amazing Sky.”