Rapid change coming as autumn begins

By Brian Hurren

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Autumn is not far away.  Photo/File
Autumn is not far away. Photo/File

With the last month of summer almost officially behind us we enter the beginning of autumn and the month of the autumnal equinox (March 20).

This time of year we see the most rapid change to the lengths of the days. With sunset at 7.59pm at the beginning of March and setting at 7.30pm by month's end. A full half hour earlier in just four weeks!

Phases of the moon in March are: Last quarter on the 2nd, new moon on the 9th, first quarter on the 16th and full moon on the 23rd. March's moon is called the Harvest Moon or Corn Moon. There will be a total eclipse of the sun (March 9) only visible in Indonesia and Northern Pacific followed two weeks later by a weak partial eclipse of the moon (March 23) visible from New Zealand but hardly noticeable.

The planets are still rocking in the morning, but only for a couple more weeks. Mercury disappears into the glare of the rising sun by the 1st, leaving us with just four planets to view. The might Jupiter rises as the sun sets (called opposition) on the 8th and is at its closest to Earth, this is the best time to see it at its brightest. Small binoculars or a telescope will bring out its moons.

Mars also crosses over into the evening sky, rising at 11.16pm on the 1st. Saturn follows at 12.10pm and crosses over into the evening sky on the 7th. By the end of the month we will only be left with Mars, Saturn and the brilliant white Venus in the morning sky.

As for meteor showers, the only one in March is the Corona-Astralids which only peaks for a couple of nights. It peaks on the 16th and produces between five and seven meteors per hour.

For more information check out Eye on the Sky Facebook page or contact the Rotorua Astronomical Society on Facebook.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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