back to top

    Monday, March 20 marks the beginning of astronomical spring

    On March 20, the Sun will pass through Aries, marking the beginning of astronomical spring. During it, in the night sky, you will have the opportunity to see all the planets of the Solar System, as well as other interesting objects and astronomical phenomena.

    In determining the astronomical spring, the point of intersection of two circles defined in astronomical coordinate systems is important. One is the ecliptic, which is the path of the Sun’s apparent motion across the sky when viewed from Earth. The plane of the ecliptic includes the orbit of the Earth, and the orbits of the other planets of the solar system lie close to it. The other is the celestial equator. Its formal definition may seem complicated but we can imagine it as an extension into space of the earth’s equator.

    There are two intersection points of both circles, one called the Aries point and the other the Libra point. When the Sun passes through the point of Aries, astronomical spring begins. In the second case, we have the beginning of astronomical autumn.

    Interestingly, the point of Aries is not in the constellation of Aries at all. Since the first century AD, and also today, it is located in the constellation of Pisces. Previously, it was in the constellation of Aries, hence its name. Its movement against the background of the constellations is the result of the precession of the Earth’s axis of rotation, which completes a full circle in 25,800 years. If the boundaries of the constellations do not change (the current ones were defined by the International Astronomical Union nearly a hundred years ago), then in 2597 the point of Aries will be in the constellation of Aquarius.

    This year, the exact start of astronomical spring is March 20 at 10:24 p.m. The first day of spring will last 12 hours and 17 minutes. The actual equinox took place on March 17.

    Venus will be the brightest object in the night sky after the Moon throughout spring. Also in the evening you will be able to see Mercury, for which the best observation conditions will be in mid-April. Mars will also be visible for much of the night.

    The planet Jupiter goes from being visible in the evening to being visible in the morning. In the first days of spring, we will see it in the evening very low over the western horizon, quickly setting. After that, it will be too close to the Sun to be seen, and by the end of May, it will begin to be visible in the morning low over the eastern horizon. In April this year, It is planned to launch the European JUICE probe, which in a few years is to reach Jupiter and study its moons. Institutes and companies from Poland also participate in the mission.

    In turn, the planet Saturn will rise earlier and earlier, initially in the morning, and at the end of spring around midnight.

    This is where the planets visible to the naked eye end. Uranus and Neptune can also be seen with telescopes. The first in the evening and the second in the morning.

    On Tuesday, March 21, the opposition of the dwarf planet Ceres will occur, and this means good visibility conditions for the object. You need a small telescope to see Ceres. From mid-April, you can start hunting another dwarf planet in the morning: Pluto. However, it is an object accessible to larger amateur telescopes.

    The conjunctions of planets with each other, or the Moon with planets, are visually interesting phenomena. Already at the very beginning of the astronomical spring, close conjunctions of the narrow crescent Moon with the planets await us, first on March 22 with Jupiter, then on March 24 with Venus, and then the more illuminated disc of the Moon with Mars (March 28).

    From May 22 to 24, the Moon will pass bright Venus and fainter Mars. Again, this situation will occur from June 21 to 22, in addition, then Venus and Mars will be visible closer to each other.

    An interesting phenomenon will be the edge occultation of Jupiter by the Moon, which will occur on May 17. Unfortunately, it will be during the day.

    At the beginning of spring, you can see the constellation of Orion with bright stars arranged in such a way that they resemble the symbolic silhouette of a man, including three arranged in a line, constituting the so-called Orion’s belt. Close to Orion is Canis Major with the star Sirius – the brightest star in the night sky. On the opposite side is Taurus with the bright star Aldebaran. Near Orion, you can also see Gemini with a pair of bright stars Castor and Pollux.

    In the sky, we also find the so-called Spring Triangle. It is not a constellation, but an asterism, i.e. a characteristic arrangement of stars, but not on the list of constellations. For example, the Big Dipper is also an asterism, not a constellation. The Spring Triangle consists of the star Regulus from the constellation Leo, the star Arcturus from Boots, and the star Spika from Virgo.

    A fairly easy to recognize constellation is Cassiopeia, whose bright stars are arranged in the letter W. Some people can find the Big Dipper, as well as the Little Dipper with the North Star.

    Among the meteor showers, the Lyrids are active from April 16 to April 25, with a maximum on the night of April 22 to 23. This is not a very abundant meteor shower but within g

    More in section