March 2015 – Stargazing and viewing the solar eclipse

March is an exciting month this year to marvel at the wonders of the sky both day and night. What, with the familiar celestial starbox above us alongside the once-in-a-lifestyle chance to observe a solar eclipse from the UK on the morning of 20th March (the day of the Vernal Equinox).

Plus, BBC Stargazing Live returns to our TV screens between the 18th and 20th! It’s a bumper month, so dive in and find out a bit more about some of the great things you can experience just by looking up to the skies more often.

Total Solar Eclipse

Total solar eclipse of Nov. 13, 2012. Credit: NASA/Cirtain

Total solar eclipse of Nov. 13, 2012. Credit: NASA/Cirtain

There’s a rare opportunity to witness a total solar eclipse on 20th March 2015 from the Faroe Islands and Svalbard (Norway). A total solar eclipse occurs when the Moon completely covers the Sun’s disc as viewed by an observer on Earth. The darkest part of the Moon’s shadow (umbra) is only a few hundred kilometres wide so not everyone on the planet can see it even though eclipses can occur several times a year. Total solar eclipses are rare as a number of the phenomena have to occur simultaneously:

  • There is a New Moon.
  • The orbit of the Moon must be crossing the ecliptic (a lunar node).
  • The Earth, Moon and Sun are aligned in a straight line (a syzygy).
  • The Moon is at its closest to Earth in its elliptical orbit around us (perigee)

On this occasion observers in the UK will see a partial solar eclipse and the further North you are on the British Isles the more complete the eclipse will be. So observers in the Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland are best positioned if weather conditions are favourable and may see as much of 98% of the Sun’s surface covered by the Moon. But even further South in Glasgow or Edinburgh viewers will see around 94% of the disc of the Sun obscured. In London, that will drop to about 84% – but nonetheless will still be an impressive sight.

IMPORTANT: Never look directly at the Sun (even during an eclipse) as this can cause permanent blindness. UV light from the Sun can burn the retina in your eyes without you being aware before it is too late.

To view the eclipse safely, you MUST wear protective eclipse glasses or project an image of the Sun being eclipsed onto a screen using a pinhole viewer (which are very simple and cheap to make).

Check out this video from Glasgow Science Centre and instructions on how to make a pinhole viewer:

When does it happen?

Location Begins
(when Moon touches Sun’s edge)
(when Moon leaves Sun’s edge)
Maximum eclipse
(when Moon is closest to Sun’s centre)
Lerwick 08:39 GMT 10:51 GMT 09:43 GMT
Glasgow 08:30 GMT 10:43 GMT 09:34 GMT
London 08:25 GMT 10:41 GMT 09:31 GMT

There are some really good resources and further information about the total solar eclipse here.

The Night Sky

Venus, Mars, and Jupiter are all visible as soon as the Sun is set through March. Mars is close to the horizon with its orange-glow whilst Venus is slightly higher to the South West and much brighter. Jupiter is due South at by about 9pm in the middle of the month. Saturn is one for the night owls or morning larks, rising in the South East around 1am before disappearing from view as the Sun rises again.

The constellation of Orion can be seen after the Sun sets. But through the night the dominant stars are Arcturus and Spica which can be found by ‘arcing’ round from the handle of ‘The Plough’. Arcturus (in the constellation of Boötes) is one of the brightest stars visible in the northern hemisphere. Spica is the brightest star in the constellation of Virgo and signals the arrival of Spring.

The image below shows the sky overhead Glasgow, UK around midnight on the 20th March 2015. As the night of the new Moon this gives a great opportunity to see the the sky without the additional light reflecting from our neighbour in space. You can click on it to make the image larger.

The overhead night sky from Glasgow, UK at midnight on 20th March 2015. Made using Stellarium

The overhead night sky from Glasgow, UK at midnight on 20th March 2015. Made using Stellarium

Sunrise and Sunset times, Glasgow

  • 5th March 2015 – Sunrise 06:59 Sunset 17:59

  • 13th March 2015 – Sunrise 06:39 Sunset 18:16

  • 20th March 2015 – Sunrise 06:20 Sunset 18:30

  • 27th March 2015 – Sunrise 06:02 Sunset 18:44

All the times listed above are local to Glasgow.

Clocks spring forward an hour on 29th March 2015 at 01:00 for Daylight Saving Time.

The Vernal (March) equinox occurs at 22:35 on 20th March in Glasgow.

Moon Phases

  • Full Moon – 5th March 2015, 18:06

  • Third Quarter – 13th March 2015, 17:48

  • New Moon – 20th March 2015, 09:36

  • First Quarter – 27th March 2015, 07:43

Times listed above are local to Glasgow.

Astronomy Books

Are you just getting into astronomy or a seasoned pro? Check out these fantastic books about astronomy which are accessible for all levels and highly recommended.

BBC Stargazing Live

Fronted by floppy-haired Professor Brian Cox and funny man, Dara O’Briain, BBC Stargazing Live returns to TV screens from 18th to 20th March 2015 (rather than in January as in previous years).

This March, get out and look up often to enjoy the spectacular skies!

About Derek Shirlaw

I'm passionate about science communication, social media, and my home country, Scotland. In particular, I have a real interest in astronomy, digital marketing, and the great outdoors.
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