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Astronomical Information for Taunton during March 2018

Starfish imageIntroduction

Welcome to – Astronomical Information from the UK Hydrographic Office ...

This page provides some astronomical information on a monthly basis for those of you living in the Taunton area. Timings are in GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) unless otherwise noted. Latest additions or updates are highlighted with a red border.

This month we have sections on:

Spring forward to British Summer Time ...

Clocks go forward Clocks in the United Kingdom go forward one hour on the last Sunday of March. Consequently, on March 25th at 01:00 GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) clocks are moved forward to 02:00 BST (British Summer Time). Any event listed here taking place after 02:00 BST on March 25th will be given in terms of British Summer Time.

2018 Astronomical and Calendarial Sheet

Download Adobe Acrobat Reader Additional information on phases of the Moon, seasons, summer times, eclipses, chronological cycles and eras, religious holidays, the United Kingdom civil calendar and holiday dates can be found in HMNAO's Astronomical and Calendarial Sheet for 2018. This is a pdf document for which a document reader can be downloaded by clicking on the Adobe Reader icon above.

Remember ...

This web page can also be accessed from outside the UK Hydrographic Office on

↻ The last update to this page was made on Friday, 2018 March 16 at 08:44:35 GMT.

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Starfish imageSolstices & Equinoxes

Solstices and Equinoxes diagram courtesy NASA (357x432) The Vernal Equinox for the northern hemisphere (or the Autumnal Equinox for the southern hemisphere) takes place on Tuesday March 20th at 16:15 GMT.

On this day, the Sun crosses the celestial equator moving northwards and the approximate length of night and day are the same. The word "equinox" is derived from the Latin words "aequus" meaning equal and "nox" meaning night. The number of daylight hours in the northern hemisphere will continue to increase until we reach the maximum amount of daylight at the northern hemisphere Summer Solstice on Thursday June 21st at 11:07 BST. Please click on the image above to see a larger version of the diagram demonstrating the occurrence of solstices and equinoxes.

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Starfish imageThe Sun

28-day animation of Solar Dynamics Observatory images of the Sun courtesy of NASA An animated view of the Sun's disk over the last twenty-eight days is shown in the image on the left. North is at the top of the image and east is to the left. These images come from the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager instrument on the NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) satellite. More multi-wavelength data from the SDO can be found here.

The Sun is exhibiting a single active region not too far from the centre of the disk designated AR2701. The spot is tiny and may well have a very short lifespan. This brings to an end a spotless run lasting twelve days. The canyon-shaped coronal hole has now become V-shaped, stretching for more than 800,000km horizontally across the north-western quadrant of the Sun. A stream of solar wind from this feature has reached the Earth's magnetic field bringing with it minor G1-class geomagnetic storms in the polar regions, not the "massive solar storm" reported on the internet on March 13th. Some observers in the Arctic polar regions have observed very bright auroral displays such as that seen before nightfall in Finland as a result of the arrival of the 500km/h solar wind stream. Overall solar activity remains at very low levels.

On Tuesday March 13th, the internet carried many reports, such as this one, of a massive solar storm about to impact the Earth. These reports are not correct. As we approach the March Equinox, there is a well-observed increase in the number of aurorae seen at the this time of the year. Even small fluctuations in the solar wind can cause impressive auroral displays. This is due to a seasonal alignment of the Sun's magnetic fields with those of the Earth known as the Russell-McPherron effect. South-pointing magnetic fields in the solar wind can oppose the Earth's north-pointing magnetic field. This combination can weaken the Earth's magnetic defences and open a "crack" in the Earth's magnetic field allowing more charged particles into the atmosphere than normal. More charged particles hitting more atoms and molecules in the atmosphere generate more aurorae. At the moment, there is a large coronal hole on the Sun's northern hemisphere. Solar winds from this feature will reach the Earth on March 14th-15th. Minor G1-class geomagnetic storms are likely, bringing auroral displays to the Earth's polar regions. However, these G1-class storms will not disable satellites or bring blackouts to power grids on the Earth.

The increasing number of spotless days heralds the coming of the solar minimum expected in 2019/2020. This could be the deepest solar minimum in more than a century. This phase of the solar cycle brings increased numbers of cosmic rays to the Earth, an increased frequency of "pink" aurorae and a slight dimming of the Sun of approximately 0.1% in terms of the total solar irradiance. A new satellite has been launched, TSIS-1, which will monitor the Sun over the next five years covering the whole of the next solar minimum. Cooling and contraction of the Earth's upper atmosphere in response to the changes on the Sun due to the solar minimum may also delay the orbital decay of satellites such as the Chinese space station, Tiangong 1, which is now predicted to re-enter the atmosphere in April 2018. The Sun's magnetic field and solar winds provides some protection for the Earth from cosmic rays. A recent paper in the journal Space Weather claims that this solar minimum could see a rise in the number of cosmic rays reaching the Earth by as much as 30% due to the weakening magnetic field of the Sun and reduced levels of solar winds. This cold mean an increased risk of radiation exposure for travellers on commercial airlines and possible changes to the climate.

NASA reported that a reversal of the Sun's magnetic field took place at the start of 2014 indicating that the maximum of solar cycle 24 had been reached. A plot of sunspot numbers, both observed and predicted versus time indicates that this solar maximum is more complex than had been previously predicted. The maximum is double-peaked in a similar manner to that of the previous maximum of 2001/2002. The individual peaks occurred in 2011 and 2014 with the latter being the larger of the two. However, sunspot numbers are significantly down on the predictions made for this maximum — indeed solar cycle 24 may be the weakest in the last 100 years or so i.e. since solar cycle 14. Assuming the start of 2014 was the beginning of the post maximum phase of solar cycle 24, we are now well into the decreasing phase of activity where individual energetic events can spawn some of the most powerful flares and coronal mass ejections of the cycle. The so-called Carrington event of 1859 is a good example of just what might be expected from this type of violent outburst. The next solar minimum, characterized by periods of many days without sunspots and flare activity, may occur in 2019 or 2020. It is likely to be a deep minimum with long periods without much sunspot or flare activity. Space weather will be dominated by solar winds and cosmic rays rather than sunspots and solar flares.

The latest information on solar activity can be found at and at the Space Weather Prediction Center Space Weather Enthusiasts Dashboard.

If an auroral display is possible or likely, warnings can be received from AuroraWatch UK. More UK-focused geomagnetic data can be found at the British Geological Survey web site.

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Starfish imageThe Moon

The sequence of Moon phases for this month and their designations are shown in the following animation:

Continuous Moon Phase animation
  Moon phases for March 2018 are as follows:
Full Moon symbol Full Moon Friday March 2nd at 00:51 GMT
Last Quarter symbol Last Quarter Friday March 9th at 11:20 GMT
New Moon symbol New Moon Saturday March 17th at 13:12 GMT
Lunation 1178
First Quarter symbol First Quarter Saturday March 24th at 15:35 GMT
Full Moon symbol Full Moon Saturday March 31st at 13:37 BST
Calendrical Blue Moon for March

The Moon is at apogee (furthest from the Earth) on Sunday March 11th at 09:14 GMT when it is 404,678km from the Earth. It is at perigee (closest to the Earth) on Monday March 26th at 18:17 BST when it is 369,106km from the Earth.

On Thursday March 1st, the Moon occults Regulus, the bluish-white first-magnitude star in the constellation of Leo. This occultation by the nearly full moon is visible from the north-eastern tip of Russia, northern North America, Greenland, Svalbard, the western edge of Europe and the Azores. The occultation starts (disappearance phase) before moonrise in the United Kingdom. The end of this occultation (the re-emergence phase) is visible from northern Scotland and the Orkney Islands and the Shetland Islands just after moonrise. The occultation is not visible from Taunton.

On Thursday March 22nd, the Moon continues its current series of occultations of Aldebaran, the orange first-magnitude star in the constellation of Taurus. This occultation by the waxing crescent moon is visible from north-eastern Russia, the Aleutian Islands, north-western North America, Greenland, Iceland, Svalbard, most of Scandinavia, Great Britain and Ireland. This occultation is visible in its entirety from the northern half of the United Kingdom. From Taunton, the occultation starts (disappearance phase) at 23:41 GMT and ends (re-emergence phase) after moonset at 00:22 GMT on Friday March 23rd.

On Wednesday March 28th, the Moon occults Regulus for the second time this month. This occultation by the waxing gibbous moon is visible from most of Scandinavia, northern and eastern Russia, Svalbard, northern Greenland, north-westernmost parts of North America and the Aleutian Islands. This occultation is not visible from the United Kingdom.

Please follow the New Moon link above to take part in our Crescent Moon Watch program which involves sighting the new crescent moon as early as possible after the instant of New Moon.

If you want to know what the Moon looks like now, try this USNO page generated by our colleagues in the Astronomical Applications Department at the US Naval Observatory in Washington.

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Starfish imageBlue Moons & Full Moon Names

Blue Moon Many of you will have heard of the term "Blue Moon" in phrases such as "once in a blue moon" meaning a rare or infrequent event. Some of you may also be aware that this month's second full moon is being called a blue moon. January 2018 also had two full moons whereas February 2018 had no full moon. The last time this sequence of events occurred was in 1999. It will happen again in 2037.

There are two "definitions" of a blue moon describing an extra full moon in a subdivision of a year. One refers to the third of four full moons in a season and, more recently and erroneously, the second full moon in a calendar month. This definition came from an article in the March 1946 edition of Sky & Telescope by James Hugh Pruett and was propagated until 1999 by this well-known astronomy magazine. If you divide the year up into quarters using solstices and equinoxes as limiting dates then the blue moons are termed "seasonal". If you adopt calendar months as your criterion, where two full moons occur in a month, then the blue moons are termed "calendrical".

The blue part of the name has nothing to do with the colour of the Moon, although on very rare occasions smoke and/or dust in the atmosphere can give the moon a bluish tint. The term blue moon may be linked to the belief that this second moon was a betrayer moon or "belewe" moon in the determination of Lent.

Blue moons of both types are listed in sequential order for the period 2000 to 2040 in the table below.

Blue Moons
Blue Moons
YearFull Moon Year1st – Full Moon2nd – Blue Moon
2000February 19 2001November 1 November 30
2002August 22  2004July 2 July 31
2005August 19  2007June 1 June 30
2008May 20  2009December 2 December 31
2010November 21 2012August 2 August 31
2013August 21  2015July 2 July 31
2016May 21  2018January 2 January 31
2019May 18  2018March 2 March 31
2021August 22  2020October 1 October 31
2024August 19  2023August 1 August 31
2027May 20  2026May 1 May 31
2029August 24  2028December 2 December 31
2032August 21  2031September 1September 30
2035May 22  2034July 1 July 31
2038May 18  2037January 2 January 31
2040August 22  2037March 2 March 31
 2039October 2 October 31

The above timings are predicated on GMT-based dates. Whichever scheme one adopts, a blue moon is not as rare an event as it might seem. In fact, seasonal blue moons happen seven times in nineteen years or once every 2.7 years.

You can also have a "Black" moon; there are several definitions for this type of moon. One is the second occurrence of a new moon in a calendar month. It can also be the third new moon in a season of four new moons. Both of these are analogous to the blue moon definitions. The third is the absence of a full moon in a calendar month and the fourth is the absence of a new moon in a calendar month. The last two can only happen in February in addition to the previous January and the following March having two full or new moons respectively. February 2018, is an example of the third definition which occurs about once every 19 years.

Some people may have heard of "dry" moons and "wet" or "Cheshire" moons, where the cusps or horns of the crescent point upwards. In the northern hemisphere, the dry moon is a summertime moon whereas the wet moon is a wintertime one. Both of these terms are thought to come from Hawaiian astrology where the crescent moon is regarded as a bowl for collecting water.

Folklore has also given us a plethora of names for each month's Full Moon. Here are a selection of names from a variety of cultures including Native American Indian, Colonial American, Pagan and English Medieval. I should point out that this list is by no means an exhaustive one.

MonthFull Moon names
January Wolf / Cold / Chaste / Old / Ice
February Snow / Storm / Hunger / Chaste / Wolf
March Worm / Crow / Sap / Chaste / Lenten / Death / Crust / Sugar
April Pink / Paschal / Seed / Sprouting Grass / Egg / Fish / Hare
May Flower / Milk / Mother's / Hare / Corn Planting
June Strawberry / Mead / Rose / Dyan / Thunder / Hot
July Buck / Hay / Wort / Summer / Thunder
August Sturgeon / Corn / Red / Fruit / Green Corn / Grain / Barley
September Harvest / (Full) Corn / Barley
October Hunter's / Dying Grass / Blood / Sanguine / Falling Leaf / Travel / Harvest
November Beaver / Frost / Snow / Mourning / Oak / Hunter's
December Cold / Winter / Oak / Long Night

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Starfish imageEclipses

Partial eclipse of the Sun There are five eclipses in 2018, two are total eclipses of the Moon and the remaining three are partial eclipses of the Sun. One total eclipse of the Moon is visible in the United Kingdom, namely that of 2018 July 27th. One partial eclipse of the Sun is also visible from the northernmost parts of the United Kingdom on 2018 August 11th.

A total eclipse of the Moon occurred on Wednesday January 31st 2018. It was visible in its entirety from Alaska, western Canada, the Hawaiian Islands, western Polynesia, Melanesia, Micronesia, most of Australia, New Zealand, eastern Indonesia, the Philippines, eastern China, Japan and eastern Siberia. Western parts of the United States, western China and India also saw the total phase of the eclipse. The eclipse ended just before moonrise in the United Kingdom so it was not visible in Taunton. Photographs of this eclipse taken around the end of totality show the effect of atmospheric scattering (left-hand image – red colouration) and ozone in the Earth's stratosphere (right-hand image – turquoise colouration).

A partial eclipse of the Sun occurred on Thursday February 15th 2018. It was visible in its entirety from most of Antarctica except parts of eastern Antarctica including Enderby Land, American Highland and Wilkes Land, and the southern part of South America including Argentina and the southern half of Chile. This eclipse was not visible from the United Kingdom.

A partial eclipse of the Sun will occur on Friday July 13th 2018. It will be visible from the easternmost part of Wilkes Land in Antarctica, the southern tip of New Zealand and the southernmost parts of South Australia and Tasmania. This eclipse is not visible from the United Kingdom.

A total eclipse of the Moon will occur on Friday July 27th 2018. It will be visible in its entirety from the Indian Ocean region, westernmost China, India, the Middle East, central Asia, Turkey and the eastern half of Africa. Most of Australia, the Philippines, Indonesia, most of China, western Africa and most of Europe will see the total phase of the eclipse. Some of the total phase of the eclipse is visible from the United Kingdom as the Moon rises during the umbral part of the eclipse. In Taunton, the Moon rises at 21:00 BST, approximately halfway between the start of the total phase at 20:30 BST and the middle of the total phase at 21:22 BST. The Moon will rise in a totally-eclipsed state and we will see about three quarters of the total phase of the eclipse.

A partial eclipse of the Sun will occur on Saturday August 11th 2018. It will be visible in its entirety from north-easternmost parts of Canada, Greenland, Iceland, northern Scotland, Scandinavia except Denmark, most of Russia except the south-western and eastern parts, and central Asia. In the United Kingdom, this eclipse is visible from the northernmost parts of Scotland, the Orkney Islands and the Shetland Islands as a very small partial eclipse with an obscuration of less than 1.8%. The eclipse will last 30 to 40 minutes with maximum obscuration occurring at around 9:49 BST. This eclipse will not be visible in Taunton.

Further information on all the eclipses in 2018 can be found on the Eclipses Online web pages. This web site provides information on both solar and lunar eclipses in the period from 1501 CE to 2100 CE. Global circumstances of both solar and lunar eclipses are provided as well as local circumstances of the solar eclipses based on a gazetteer of approximately 1500 locations worldwide. Eclipses for next year, 2019, are also available.

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Starfish imageThe Planets

Planets visible with the naked eye ...

Mercury image

Mercury is very low in the western evening twilight sky at the start of the month. However, this is the start of its best apparition of the year for northern observers. It climbs higher in the western sky at the end of evening civil twilight as the month progresses. Mercury fades from magnitude −1.2 at the start of the month to magnitude +3.7 at the end of March. Mercury and Venus lie with 5° of each other during the first three weeks of March. Mercury reaches greatest eastern elongation on Thursday March 15th. It lies 1.4° north of Venus on Monday March 5th and 4° north of Venus on Sunday March 18th.

Venus image

Venus starts the month very low in the western sky as it gradually emerges into the evening twilight sky where it will remain until the early Autumn. It climbs higher in the western sky at the end of evening civil twilight as the month progresses. Venus remains at magnitude −3.9 for the whole of March. Venus and Mercury lie with 5° of each other during the first three weeks of March. Venus lies 1.4° south of Mercury on Monday March 5th and 4° south of Mercury on Sunday March 18th. Venus lies 4° north of the waxing crescent moon on March 18th.

Mars image

Mars rises around two and a half hours before the start of morning nautical twilight in the south-eastern twilight sky. It lies in the constellation of Ophiuchus for the first week or so of March. Mars then moves eastwards into Sagittarius for the remainder of the month. It brightens noticeably from magnitude +0.9 at the start of the month to +0.3 at the end of March. Mars lies 4° south of the last quarter moon on Saturday March 10th.

Jupiter image

Jupiter rises around midnight in the east south-eastern sky. It lies in the constellation of Libra where it will remain for much of 2018. Jupiter brightens somewhat from magnitude −2.2 at the start of the month to −2.4 at the end of March. The planet is stationary on Friday March 9th whereupon it starts its retrograde motion through Libra. Jupiter lies 4° south of the waning gibbous moon on Wednesday March 7th.

Saturn image

Saturn rises in the south-eastern morning twilight sky about an hour before the start of morning astronomical twilight. It lies in the constellation of Sagittarius where it will remain for the remainder of 2018. The magnitude of Saturn brightens slightly from +0.6 at the start of the month to +0.5 at the end of March. It lies 2° south of the waning crescent moon on Sunday March 11th.

Planets visible with Binoculars ...

Uranus image

Uranus can be observed with increasing difficulty in the western evening twilight sky, setting after the end of astronomical twilight. It lies in the constellation of Pisces approximately 1.7° to the north-west of the 4th magnitude star Omicron Piscium. Uranus reaches conjunction with the Sun on Wednesday April 18th. It is a blue-green object visible with binoculars with a magnitude of +5.9 throughout March. This planet can also be glimpsed with the naked-eye under optimum conditions.

Venus is in conjunction with Uranus on Thursday March 29th at 00:15 GMT. At 00:51 GMT, the two planets are separated by only 4.1 arcminutes in the sky but by a factor of 8000 in brightness. sadly, At the time of the conjunction both objects are below the horizon for United Kingdom observers. At the beginning of evening nautical twilight on March 28th, the two planets are separated by about 17 arcminutes. This our best opportunity to observe Venus and Uranus closest to this conjunction.

Neptune image

Neptune is too close to the Sun to be observed. It lies in the constellation of Aquarius approximately 2.5° to the east of the 4th magnitude star Lambda Aquarii. Neptune reaches conjunction with the sun on Sunday March 4th. It is a bluish object of magnitude +8.0 visible with good binoculars under optimum conditions. However, please note, that it can be difficult to distinguish Neptune from other stellar objects of a similar magnitude.

... & Telescopes!

Pluto image

Pluto lies in the constellation of Sagittarius and is visible in the south-eastern sky during morning nautical twilight, having risen before the start of morning astronomical twilight. Strictly speaking, this is a dwarf planet as it was demoted from the ranks of the "bona-fide" planets in 2006. I have to confess that I was one of those astronomers that voted for its demotion at the IAU General Assembly in Prague! At magnitude +14.7, you will need a much more serious telescope to find this remote member of the Solar System.

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Starfish imageZodiacal Light

Zodiacal Light The rarely-spotted Zodiacal Light can be seen in the half hour or so before astronomical twilight starts in the morning or in the half hour or so after astronomical twilight ends in the evening. It is best seen when the ecliptic, the path the Sun takes in the night sky, is at a steep angle to the horizon. In northerly latitudes, this occurs in the western evening post-twilight sky in February and March and the eastern morning pre-twilight sky in September and October. The Zodiacal Light appears as a large, softly radiant pyramid of light with its base near the horizon and its axis centred on the Zodiac constellations. It appears to be about as bright as the Milky Way, so a dark, unpolluted sky without haze is essential to see this phenomenon. Beware, it can easily be confused with twilight itself. In the accompanying photograph, the Zodiacal Light is on the left and the Milky Way is on the right. For Taunton, astronomical twilight ends in the evening at around 19:45 GMT at the beginning of the month and at 20:40 GMT / 21:40 BST at the end of the month. The cause of this so-called "false dawn" is sunlight reflecting of a lens-shaped cloud of dust in the plane of the inner solar system.

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Starfish imageMeteor Showers

Perseid meteors in 2010 There are no major meteor showers active during February. The next significant shower is the April Lyrids, active during the latter half of April and peaking on Sunday April 22nd at around 19:00 BST, displaying a rate of about 20 meteors per hour. This year's display is reasonably well-aspected for morning observations as the maximum occurs close to first quarter moon. Further information can be found at the International Meteor Organization and their 2018 Meteor Shower Calendar.

It is worth noting that bright sporadic meteors and fireballs are possible at any time e.g. the fireball observed over many parts of England and Scotland on Saturday March 3rd 2012 at 21:40 GMT. Larger events, known as bolides, are rarer. Typically, this is a very bright fireball reaching an apparent magnitude of −14 or so, perhaps three times as bright as a full moon. Even rarer are the superbolides, events with apparent magnitudes of −17 or so, around 50 times brighter than the full moon. A recent example of a superbolide was the Chelyabinsk meteor of 2013 February 15th at 03:20 UTC which may have been a 20-metre diameter near-Earth asteroid.

Another loosely-related phenomenon is the re-entry of space debris from space vehicles and satellites whose orbits are decaying to the point where they burn up in the Earth's atmosphere. A couple of well-reported examples of this occurred at around 23:00 BST on Friday September 21st 2012 as well as the return of the GOCE satellite just after midnight on Tuesday November 12th 2013.

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Starfish imageComets

Comet McNaught - January 2007There are a number of comets around the sky at the moment. However, most of them require telescopic assistance to see them and some may be too far south in the sky to be seen by observers based in the United Kingdom. Here is a brief summary of the comets that may be accessible to observers with binoculars or small telescopes in the northern hemisphere.

A possible target for the observer with access to a small telescope is the large and diffuse comet C/2017 T1 Heinze. It was discovered on 2017 October 2nd and reached perihelion on 2018 February 21st. The comet was closest to the Earth on Thursday January 4th at a distance of 33 million kilometres from the Earth, reaching a magnitude of 9.8. C/2017 T1 Heinze lies in the constellation of Pegasus for the first ten days of March, followed by Aquarius until the end of the fourth week of March. It then moves into Capricornus for the remainder of March. The comet fades from 9.7 at the start of the month to 10.7 by the middle of the month and then to 11.7 by the end of March. The magnitude of this comet was thought to exceed the Bortle limit for comets, indicating that it might not survive its passage through perihelion. Nevertheless, having survived perihelion, it should be just about visible very low in the eastern sky during morning twilight during the first half of March as it moves towards the southern hemisphere sky.

The tenth-magnitude comet C/2016 R2 PANSTARRS has recently exhibited some unusual behaviour. For those of you with access to a small telescope, it may be of interest to take a look at this comet. It moves out of the constellation of Taurus during the first week of March to spend the rest of the month in Perseus. It is visible fairly high in the western evening twilight sky at magnitude 10.7 for the whole or March. In this photograph, the comet lies between the 4th magnitude star Gamma Tauri (bottom left) and the seventh magnitude star HD27029 (top right). It has a very strong blue colour indicative of significant quantities of ionised carbon monoxide, CO+, fluorescing under the influence of sunlight in its orbit just outside that of Mars. It has a chaotic tail fed by jets from the comet's core; the tail also exhibits swirls of material and an unusual knee-shaped feature. The comet can be seen high in the southern sky at the end of evening nautical twilight and there is plenty of scope for more volatility as carbon monoxide-rich C/2016 R2 reaches perihelion on 2018 May 9th.

Comet C/2016 M1 PANSTARRS may reach ninth magnitude in late June before reaching perihelion on August 10th. However during March, it will be visible fairly high in the eastern morning twilight sky in the constellation of Aquila where it will remain during March. The comet should brighten from magnitude 10.8 at the start of the month to 10.1 at the end of March.

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Starfish imageInternational Space Station

NASA International Space Station photo If you want to look for the International Space Station (ISS) as it passes over Taunton, please have a look at this page on the Heavens Above web site. The ISS is at least as bright as a first magnitude star and can approach the brightness of Venus. Similarly, if you want to look for the Chinese space station, Tiangong-1, have a look at this page. It has been known for some time now that Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere in an "uncontrolled manner" early in 2018, most likely in April. Tiangong-1 is significantly fainter than the ISS, normally as bright as a third or fourth magnitude star. Information for Tiangong-2, the latest Chinese addition to the space stations orbiting the Earth, can be found on this page. It is of a similar brightness to the larger Tiangong-1. Predictions for other satellites may also be obtained from the Heavens Above web site.

Another satellite-related phenomena to look out for are the so-called "Iridium flares". These bright flashes of sunlight reflecting off the Iridium series of communication satellites can be seen at night and also occasionally during the daytime if they are bright enough. Predictions for the next seven nights are available.

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Starfish imageAurorae

Ovation auroral prediction for the northern hemisphere

The above image is a 30 minute forecast of the location and probability of auroral activity based loosely on a model developed at Johns Hopkins' Applied Physics Laboratory known as the Ovation Aurora Forecast model. It provides estimates of the energy per unit area on the Earth's atmosphere from observations of the solar wind and interplanetary magnetic field made by the Advanced Composition Explorer satellite in conjunction with empirical relationships derived from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program. It shows where the aurora is most likely to be seen and how bright it is likely to be. The model generates a global estimate of power, called the Hemispheric Power, deposited into the atmosphere in gigawatts (GW). For powers of less than 20GW, little or no aurora may be visible. For powers of 20-50GW, you may need to be relatively close to the aurora to see it. For values above 50GW, the aurora should be easily observable, active and mobile. For values above 100GW, this is considered to be a significant storm where the aurora may be visible from hundreds of miles away. The current prediction is downloaded when you load this page. If you want to download the latest model, simply reload this page or hit F5. If you want to see the full-sized map, please click on the above image.

If an auroral display is possible or likely, warnings can be received from AuroraWatch UK. More UK-focused geomagnetic data can be found at the British Geological Survey web site.

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Starfish imageSky chart for mid-March at 22:00 GMT for Taunton

Sky chart for mid-March 2018 from Taunton at 22:00 GMT

The above sky chart, generated from the web site, shows what the night sky looks like at 22:00 GMT on Friday March 16th 2018 from Taunton. The night sky will look the same an hour later at 23:00 GMT at the beginning of the month and an hour earlier at 21:00 GMT / 22:00 BST at the end of the month. If you want to generate your own star chart for Taunton for another date and/or time please follow this link

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Starfish imageRise/set times (GMT) for the Sun & Moon for Taunton

In March 2018, the amount of daylight (measured from sunrise to sunset) increases from 10 hours 56 minutes at the start of the month to 12 hours 52 minutes at the end of the month. Total daylight (sunrise to sunset) for the month is 369 hours 3 minutes.

start and end times of civil, nautical and astronomical twilights.

March 2018
Date &
Rise/Set timesDay
h mh mh mh mh m
07Wed06:4418:03** **09:3111:19
22Thu06:1118:2908:56** **12:18
** ** No phenomenon that day
PLEASE NOTE: These times are in Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) except between 01:00 GMT on March 25th and 01:00 GMT on October 28th when the times are in BST (British Summer Time) which is one hour in advance of GMT. Times given in red are in BST.

Useful area for table of rise/set times The timings in the table above should be accurate to within 1-2 minutes inside the red circle superimposed on the map shown on the left.

Rising and setting times for the Sun, Moon and planets and times of twilights for other locations can be obtained from HMNAO's Websurf web pages.

The actual times at which the Sun will just appear, or disappear, will depend on the difference of the altitudes of the observer and the local horizon and the actual refraction, which depends on the meteorological conditions along the light path. Differences of a minute or so from the tabulated times are to be expected.

For the drivers amongst you, the "Hours of Darkness", as defined by the Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations (1989), start half an hour after sunset and end half an hour before the following sunrise. Headlights should be used during the Hours of Darkness and sidelights in the half hour periods after sunset and before sunrise. These timings can also be obtained from HMNAO's Websurf web pages using the Rise, Set and Twilight Times option.

For the VFR (Visual Flight Rules) pilots amongst you, night, according to Statutory Instrument 2009 No. 3015, Civil Aviation, The Air Navigation Order 2009, Part 33 (Interpretation), Article 255(1), means "the time from half an hour after sunset until half an hour before sunrise (both times inclusive), sunset and sunrise being determined at surface level". In other words, the night time period starts at the beginning of the Hours of Darkness and finishes at the end of the Hours of Darkness.

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Last modified: Friday, 16 March 2018 at 08:44:35 GMT