What's in the night sky in the week of 13 to 19 March, 2023 in our weekly stargazing guide.


Chris Bramley Hello and welcome to Star Diary, the podcast from the makers of BBC Sky at Night Magazine. You can subscribe to the print edition of the magazine by visiting skyatnightmagazine.com or to a digital edition by visiting on iTunes or Google Play.

Ezzy Pearson Greetings, listeners, and welcome to Start Diary – weekly Guide to the best things to see in the northern hemisphere's night sky. As we are based here in the UK all times are in GMT. Inthis episode will be covering the coming week from 13 to 19 March. I'm Ezzy Pearson, the magazine's features editor and unfortunately neither of my co-workers could join me this week but I'm still here to run you through all the best things to see in the night sky this week.

And it will be throughout this week because there's no real one big event that's going to occur on a specific day. Instead, there's several things that would be it's a good opportunity to see throughout the week. And one of these is lunar libration. We've talked a lot about that on the past couple of episodes. It's where the moon's wobble appears to bring certain features into view which are normally hidden behind the edge of the Moon. And this week it's going to be the turn of the north and northwestern edge of the Moon that are going to be particularly well placed. Towards the beginning of the week on 13 March there's going to be two craters on display. There is the Hermite Crater and the Rozhdestvenskiy Crater as well. I think that's how you pronounce it. Those are both going to be on view. And then as the week goes on, more of the North West region is going to be brought into view. Unfortunately, the Moon at the moment isn't very well placed in the night sky it's going to be quite low. It's rising in the early morning as well. So it's not necessarily the best place for most astronomers but if you're an early riser looking for something to observe in the morning, then perhaps this is a good opportunity to do that. If you've wanted to try lunar sketching, libration features are always a great way to do that. You get a much better understanding of lunar features when you are looking at them and sketching them out by hand, as opposed to if you're just taking pictures of them. To view these, you will need a telescope or a pair of binoculars in order to get close enough to really be able to see those details on those craters. But take a good look at that region, one that doesn't often get to be seen.

Another Solar System body that's going to be on display is Ceres. Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt, and it's going to actually be heading towards opposition on 23 March, so that's next week. But this week and in fact, from 14 to 29 March it's going to be it's at least magnitude +7.3 throughout that entire time. So it really is a great opportunity to try and get to grips with this asteroid. There's a potential photo opportunity on 16 March, which is when Ceres will be 40 arc minutes north of a magnitude +9.3 galaxy M88. So those pair will be nice and close together on the night sky. Now you will notice I've been calling Ceres a body or an object and that's because it's going through a bit of an identity crisis. When it was first discovered back on 1 January 1801 by an astronomer called Giuseppe Piazzi, He first thought it was a star. As he watched it throughout the month, he realised it was moving too quickly. And actually this was something within our Solar System because it was moving across the night sky. Lead it to be called an asteroid, sort of a star like object. Then in 2006, Pluto got demoted from a fully fledged planet to a dwarf planet. And this in turn led to Ceres being defined as a dwarf planet because it is large enough. It's about a thousand kilometres across, which means it's got enough mass to be able to pull itself into a spherical ball shape, which is one of the definitions of being a dwarf planet. And that means that Ceres has gone from being the first asteroid discovered to the only dwarf planet in the asteroid belt and now the largest asteroid in the belt is... that honour has gone to Vesta instead.

And looking at another Solar System object, it's still a really good time to see Venus in the evening sky. Venus throughout the month is going to be incredibly bright. It will be -3.9 magnitude throughout the month. So in the western evening sky, it's going to be very bright, very obvious. You'll probably spot it without even meaning to. It really is very bright. In fact, it's the brightest thing in the night sky when it's up because both the Sun and the Moon will have set when you can see it. You also might see a second object closer to it on the horizon a bit dimmer, but still much brighter than most other stars. And that is actually a planet, not a star, Jupiter. Venus and Jupiter have their closest approach a couple of weeks ago. You can go back to our 27 February episode if you want to hear more about that, but they will still be both visible in the night sky. If you are looking for Venus this week, it will be visible for about 2 or 3 Hours after sunset, but it's best viewed as soon as it gets dark. You want to make sure that the sun has set below the horizon. We don't want you to accidentally catching sight of the Sun in your your optics, in your telescope or binoculars, because that can really do damage to your eyes. Always make sure that the Sun has that below the horizon before you look for these. But then you should be able to see Venus, nice and bright in the night sky.

Whilst you're out looking for Venus some more advanced astronomers might also want to keep an eye out for something called the Zodiacal Light. So this is a light that has been scattered by dust within our Solar System. The exact origin of the dust is still a bit in question. Various origins over the years have been postulated but what happens is this appears to create a glow on the horizon, so rising up out of the horizon and it's sometimes called the false dawn or the false sunset because it seemed just after sunset or just before dawn. And it kind of does resemble the oncoming dawn. And it will be best viewed this week for two big reasons one is that it's the equinox next week. For those of us at more northern latitudes the zodiacal light is best seen around the equinoxes. That's when the angle of the Sun and the dust is best for that. But it's also because the Moon is going to be out of the way in the evening sky. And for those of us in the northern hemisphere, the evening sky is the best time to be able to try and see it. People in the southern hemisphere, you might want to wait a couple of weeks for the Moon to be out of the way in the morning night sky, because that's when it's going to be better for you. But hopefully if you are out there anyway and you do see this glow on the horizon, maybe you'll get to take a picture of it. We'd absolutely love to see those. We always do. Please do go on to our website www.skyatnightmagazine.com to find out how to submit any and all of your images. We always love to see them. So quite a few things to be seeing the night sky. This week some good observing projects, a couple of imaging opportunities as well. Now you might notice we teased a couple of things that will be coming next week, so do be sure to subscribe to the podcast to make sure you don't miss that episode and hear all of the latest stargazing tips. And we will hopefully see you then.

If you want to find out even more spectacular sites that will be gracing the night sky throughout the month, be sure to pick up a copy of BBC Sky at Night magazine, where we have a 16 page pull out Sky guide with a full overview of everything worth looking up for. Whether you like to look at the moon, the planets, or the deep sky, whether you use binoculars, telescopes or neither. Our sky guide has got you covered with detailed star charts to help you track your way across the night sky. From all of us here at BBC Sky at Night Magazine. Goodbye.


Chris Thank you for listening to this episode of the Star Diary podcast from the makers of BBC Sky at Night magazine. For more of our podcasts, visit our website at skyatnightmagazine.com or head to iTunes or Spotify.


Elizabeth Pearson
Ezzy PearsonScience journalist

Ezzy Pearson is the Features Editor of BBC Sky at Night Magazine. Her first book about the history of robotic planetary landers is out now from The History Press.