You can always depend on the coming of Spring to breathe life into our forests. But this year’s vernal equinox has an added bonus that may breathe life into the skies. This year’s conditions are perfect for us to see the aurora borealis or northern lights.
For starters, the chances of seeing the northern lights during the spring or fall are almost doubled compared to any other time of the year, according to a study of 75 years of aurora watching. One explanation is that the Earth’s tilt during the equinox aligns the magnetic fields of our planet with the sun.
Also, historically a decline in solar activity, which is currently happening on the sun and for the rest of 2014, can trigger solar storms. Flares from these storms can reach out toward the Earth, creating an aurora as ionized particles light up the upper atmosphere.
It’s hard to predict when solar storms occur but there are websites like SpaceWeather.com that can tell you when it’s about to happen.
Here are March stargazer events. Most are listed in the Hamilton Amateur Astronomers calendar.
Mercury and Venus can be seen in the south eastern dawn sky. Mars rises in the mid-evening. Jupiter can be seen in the mid-evening sky and Saturn rises near midnight.
March 9: Daylight savings time begins so set your clocks ahead by an hour. Also, the moon is below Jupiter in the evening sky.
March 14: Mercury is at its greatest elongation or furthest from the sun and can be seen low in the morning sky.
March 16: Full moon.
March 18: The moon, Mars and Spica form a triangle in the late night sky.
March 20: The long-anticipated vernal equinox officially occurs at 12:57 p.m., bringing spring. The moon is also near Saturn in the midnight sky.
March 21: Hamilton Amateur Astronomers meeting 7:30-9:30 p.m., Hamilton Spectator, 44 Frid St. Free admission with door prizes and everyone is welcome. An optional food bank donation of non-perishable goods will be collected. Speaker will be member Don Pullen, who will discuss “Cosmic Doom.”
March 22: Venus is furthest from the sun seen in the dawn sky.
March 23: Last quarter moon.
March 25: Mars is near Spica in the late evening sky.
March 28: The moon is near Venus in the morning sky.
March 29: Mercury is near the moon in the morning sky.
For more information, please see the Hamilton Amateur Astronomers web site at amateurastronomy.org or call 905-627-4323. If you would like to learn more about the night sky, the club offers a basic astronomy course for new members.
Mario Carr, the author of this report, is the club’s director of public education. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.