March is a big month for skygazers. It’s Women’s History Month, giving us an extra excuse to celebrate astronomy all-stars like Caroline Herschel and Williamina Fleming. And March 5 is your first chance this year to complete a Messier Marathon! Don’t forget about International Women’s Day coming up on March 8, as well!
Women’s History Month is the perfect time to celebrate notable women in astronomy. Caroline Herschel (1750-1848) is most well-known for discovering a number of comets, as well as a dwarf elliptical galaxy that would go on to become the last item added to the Messier Catalog. Williamina Fleming (1857-1911) discovered 10 novae, more than 310 stars and 39 nebulae including the majestic Horsehead Nebula. Building on these pioneers’ work, women have continued to make vital contributions to astronomy, including Vera Rubin (1928-2016), whose work on galaxy rotation rates provided the first evidence for the existence of dark matter.
You can find Herschel’s dwarf galaxy, Messier 110, and the rest of the more than 100 objects in the Messier Catalog coming up in March. Astronomer Charles Messier’s famous list of deep-sky objects, first published in 1774, today includes 110 galaxies, nebulae,and star clusters. A few times each year, if conditions are favorable, it’s possible to observe all 110 objects in one night! One of those special Messier Marathon nights this year is March 5 and you won’t want to miss it.
In preparation for these great upcoming events, we’ve prepared a special observing challenge. While you’re out, don’t miss constellations like Gemini, Auriga and Canis Major. For a chance to see planets, you’ll have to take a second shift, with Mercury, Venus and Mars making appearances before dawn.
Without further ado, let’s get warmed up for March with these five deep-sky observing targets!
Dwarf elliptical galaxy M110, also known as NGC 205, was discovered by Caroline Herschel in 1783. Near the Andromeda Galaxy in our own Local Group, Messier 110 is currently visible in the Northern Hemisphere. It was the last item added to the Messier Catalog, in 1967.
In the constellation Sculptor, the intermediate spiral galaxy of the same name is currently visible in the Southern Hemisphere. Also known as NGC 253 and the Silver Dollar Galaxy, the galaxy was also discovered by Herschel in 1783. It’s a starburst galaxy, which means it’s currently undergoing incredible rates of star formation!
Dumbbell Nebula (Messier 27)
This dumbbell-shaped planetary nebula lies in the constellation Vulpecula, now visible in the Northern Hemisphere. Also called NGC 6853 or the Apple Core Nebula, M27 is visible through binoculars when conditions are right. It was discovered by Charles Messier in 1764.
Triangulum Galaxy (Messier 33)
In the constellation Triangulum, visible now in the Northern Hemisphere, lies this brilliant spiral galaxy. Likely discovered by Italian astronomer Giovanni Battista Hodierna sometime before 1654, M33, also called NGC 598, is the third largest galaxy in our Local Group, after the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies. It’s observable with the naked eye!
Eagle Nebula (Messier 16)
In the constellation Serpens, the fan-favorite Eagle Nebula is currently visible in both hemispheres, but only in the early morning. Also known as the Star Queen or simply The Spire, this deep sky object was made famous by the Hubble Space Telescope’s “Pillars of Creation” image taken in 1995. Discovered by Jean-Philippe de Cheseau in 1745-46, M16 is an open star cluster and part of a diffuse emission nebula.
We encourage you to share your observations and join the conversation through our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages using the hashtag #UnistellarChallenge!
If you’d like to send us your observations by email, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Clear skies! 🔭