Moon, stars and a bit of snow. | Interested In Everything

I’ve not done much stargazing for a while. This is partly due to almost an entire semester of early starts, meaning I’ve not had the inclination to sit up all night looking through a telescope and partly due to cloud, because, well, I’m in England. Still, the prospect of a clear weekend and a bit more free time had me looking through the astronomy yearbook to see what was coming up in March.

Firstly, the night of the 1st and 2nd is a full moon, the first of two putting in an appearance this month, with the second one showing its face on the 31st. As I’m sure you’re aware, this second appearance of a full moon in any calendar month is generally referred to as a blue moon, hence the well known phrase. If it’s clear, you should be able to see it throughout the night, rising at around sunset in the east and setting in the west just before sunrise. In case you didn’t know, a precise full moon occurs at the moment that it’s exactly opposite to the sun in the ecliptic (the imaginary line that marks out the annual path of the sun) and this exact full moon moment happens at 00:51 on the morning of Friday, 2nd March.

March is going to be good for viewing the five bright planets, especially just after sunset or just before sunrise. The five bright planets are, of course, the ones that are easily visible without using any optical aids and are, in order going outwards from the sun, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Mercury and Venus should be close to one another and visible just after sunset, while the others should be visible further east, with Jupiter appearing first, followed by Mars and then Saturn a little later.

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Now, I wrote that short guide to the early March sky with the intention of putting it up on the blog a couple of days ago. Unfortunately, the weather’s turned a bit since then and you probably won’t see much for a few days. The much hyped “Beast From the East”, as the media keep referring to it, has swept in and here we’re covered in a blanket of snow. The temperature has hardly been above freezing since Tuesday night and this corner of Derbyshire seems to have ground to a halt. The roads are just about passable, there are no buses running and I have no desire to get stuck out in the car, so I’ve been working at home. The world won’t end if I have to postpone a few lectures so, if any of my lot are reading this: sorry, folks, we’ll pick up again next week.

As usual, there are the same voices complaining about how we can’t cope with a few flakes of snow and other countries cope remarkably well. In reply to that, I have to say that of course they do. Places like Scandinavia are used to it, get it regularly and can plan for it. In good old Blighty, we have some serious snow-related disruption every now and again. I think the last time I had a day at home because of the weather was back in 2010. We also have a maritime climate, which essentially means that our ambient temperature hovers around freezing point at times like this and there is a constant freeze-thaw cycle going on, meaning that light and fluffy snow quickly turns to slush and then to ice and so on and so on, making it a pain to deal with. I don’t have snow tyres as it’s not worth the expense and hassle for something that might be needed for a week every couple of years, so I’m not taking the car out. In fact, half of the problem is not the snow itself, but people who think they can still drive like it’s a summer’s day and end up causing accidents!

Anyway, that’s enough before I get into full rant mode again. If it clears up, enjoy some planet spotting. If not, keep safe in the bad weather.

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