The equinox on March 20th is a sad day for star gazers as that’s when days become longer than the nights, says expert Rob Nolan. But there’s still lots of astral excitement to observe.
Well, we’ve certainly had some changeable weather this past month, ending with storm Eunice tearing through the south west on Friday the 18th Feb. Certainly not conducive weather for star gazing by any means! High winds have been a theme recently. Given that we’ve just celebrated Valentine’s Day, it seemed only fitting to give you all the gift of a Rose this month! Like many, though, mine is a bit late for the 14th February…
The Rosette (or Rosetta) Nebula’s appearance in optical light resembles a rose flower, or the rosette, the stylized flower design used in sculptural objects since ancient times, and the nebula was named after the design.
The nebula has earned the nickname the Skull because it also closely resembles the human skull. I much prefer to see it as a rose though.
A beautiful nebula
The Rosette Nebula (NGC 2237) is one of my favourite objects in the winter sky to photograph. It’s an unbelievably beautiful nebula in constellation Monoceros, the Unicorn. It has an apparent magnitude of 9.0 and is approximately 5,200 light years away from Earth.
The nebula is a large cloud of gas and dust that lies near a large molecular cloud and is closely associated with the open cluster NGC 2244, whose stars were formed from the nebula’s matter in the last five million years.
The surrounding gas that forms a ring around the dark centre is glowing because it is being blasted by radiation from nearby stars (I know, I’m destroying the rose romanticism now), making the Rosette Nebula an emission nebula made up of hydrogen gas, giving it a red colour when imaged.
This image is also my first mosaic composition, which was created by stitching four separate images together to make the overall image, providing higher overall detail. Each Panel of the mosaic contains two and a half hours of data. This was shot in January this year using a Skywatcher 200 PDS Newtonian Reflector Telescope and Cooled Astro Camera.
The Night Sky, March 2022 – Rob’s tips for your stargazing this month:
Winter officially ends in less than a month on the 20th March. At which point we will pass equinox, and the days become longer than the night.
The most exciting changes may happen in the southern skies at the moment, but now is a great time to have a look at some of the northern constellations that are visible every night of the year. Cassiopeia, Cepheus, Draco and Ursa Major and Minor are all visible and should be explored. Gemini in the Southern Skies plays host to the bright stars Castor and Pollox.
Castor is actually a family made up of six stars, with three pairs of stars all gravitationally bound to each other, which can be seen when observing them through a small telescope.
Pollux is cooler, and appears more orange, but it’s also not alone. A planet larger than Jupiter orbits Pollux, called Thestias.
Gemini is also home to a beautiful star cluster, M35, which can be seen with the unaided eye despite being nearly 2,800 light years away from Earth.
Praesepe – also known as The Beehive – is a swarm of more than 1,000 stars, visible as a faint misty patch in Cancer to the unaided eye, between Gemini and Leo. It was first distinguished as a group of stars by Galileo – grab a pair of binoculars or a small telescope to take a closer look.
Other events to enjoy this month start on the 8th of March, when the Moon is near the Pleiades.
As mentioned, on the 20th March, the Spring Equinox occurs, a saddening time for astronomers as it marks the beginning of the end of the few long nights we’ve enjoyed during the autumn and winter months.
On the 28th March, just before dawn, look low towards the south-east to observer Venus with the narrow crescent Moon below. If you have a pair of binoculars to hand, you can also see Saturn and Mars in the vicinity.
Most of the planets in our Solar System are only visible just before dawn during March, with the exception of Uranus, which is observable by binoculars or a telescope all night long.
by Rob Nolan – Find RPN Photography on Facebook here