These free, printable Sky Maps (star charts) by astrononer Jeff DeTray will help find your way around the night sky!
Each month, Jeff’s Sky Maps highlight a wonderful event in the evening sky—including beautiful stars, constellations, planets, conjuntions with the Moon, meteor showers, and other amazing celestial objects.
Sky Map March 2015
By Jeff DeTray, Almanac astronomer writer
Follow Jeff DeTray’s sky adventures at AstronomyBoy.com
This Month: Orion Takes Center Stage
Just click, print, and bring outside!
After sunset on the evening of March 21, the very thin crescent Moon and the planet Mars will be close together low in the western sky. When two celestial objects appear close together in the sky, the event is called a conjunction. The conjunction of the Moon and Mars begins a week during which the night-to-night motion and changing appearance of the Moon is easy to see.
Compared to the stars and the planets, the Moon is a speedster! The positions of the stars barely change during the course of an entire human lifetime, although there are exceptions. The planets require weeks, months, or a few years for their movements to become obvious. The Moon’s position, however, changes so fast that its motion is obvious even during a single night. The portion of the Moon that appears illuminated, known as its phase, also changes from one night to the next.
No wonder Shakespeare’s Juliet says,
O, swear not by the Moon, th’ inconstant Moon,
That monthly changes in her circle orb,
Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.
On March 22, the very next night after its conjunction with Mars, the Moon will have moved upward and be sitting just to the left of the bright planet Venus. The Moon’s phase will be a little larger, too, its crescent growing from one night to the next. By the next night, March 23, the Moon will have left Mars and Venus behind. Now 18 percent illuminated, the Moon lies halfway between Venus and the bright reddish star Aldebaran.
The evening of March 24 brings the Moon close to Aldebaran and right into the midst of the Hyades star cluster. It’s a striking scene, especially if you wait until after 9:00 P.M., when the sky is getting truly dark and more stars are visible. Note how Venus and Mars have remained more or less where they were on March 21, while the inconstant Moon has moved up, up, and away each night.
The Moon continues on its merry way, passing the constellation Orion the Hunter on March 25 and 26 and reaching Gemini the Twins on the March 27. By this time, the Moon’s face is more than half illuminated from our point of view. This half-illuminated state marks the Moon’s “first quarter,” so named because the Moon is one-quarter of the way through its monthly orbit around Earth.
Sky map produced using Chris Marriott’s Skymap Pro
See our Sky Watch page for more highlights of the monthly sky, courtesy of The Old Farmer’s Almanac.