A cluster of delights in the March sky

Omega Centauri is the largest globular cluster in the Milky Way. Photo courtesy NASA

Observing the night sky from southern latitudes this month you can see plenty with a good pair of binoculars, including the open cluster known as the Southern Pleiades (IC 2602). Its brightest member, the star Theta Carinae, can be seen with the naked eye. If you turn binoculars on the cluster, you can see about 24 other sparkling stars. Just north of the Southern Pleiades is a glowing region (NGC 3372) that’s also known as the Carina Nebula. While it’s also visible to the naked eye, it is beautiful when observed through a small telescope.

Looking south is the False Cross, which is formed by four stars in the constellations Carina and Vela. The False Cross asterism resembles the constellation Crux – the Southern Cross – but is somewhat larger. Still looking south is the globular cluster Omega Centauri (NGC 5139), the largest globular cluster in the Milky Way and a must-see object. A large telescope shows many of its stars, while binoculars show the cluster as a bright patch of light. In the west, the Jewel Box open cluster (NGC 4755), in Crux, is a nice target for small telescopes and binoculars. Another western target is the Eta Carinae Nebula (NGC 3372) a little further in Carina. NGC 3372 is visible to the naked eye against the Milky Way, with a dark lane of dust running through it.

On March 18, a waning crescent moon forms a line with Mars, Jupiter and Saturn in the morning sky. On March 20, the Earth is at equinox, when the Earth’s two hemispheres are receiving the sun’s rays equally. Then March 29 will see Venus close to the crescent moon in the evening.

On March 6, the Mornington Peninsula Astronomical Society will be holding its monthly stargazing night at the MPAS Observatory at The Briars in Mount Martha. It starts at 8pm with a multimedia talk and Q&A before moving outside to view the sky through a wide array of telescopes supplied by the society and members. 

Then on March 18, Dr Robert Dahni, a retired meteorologist from the Bureau of Meteorology, will be speaking at the observatory on Weather and Astronomy: My Personal Journey, with the public welcome to attend.

By Nerida Langcake
This article appeared in the March 2020 issue of the Mornington Peninsula Magazine.