Thursday, March 30
The waxing Moon is only growing brighter, but we’re going to try our luck at a fainter target anyway, because tonight is picture perfect: Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is just 3.3° from IC 2118, better known as the Witch Head Nebula.
Both are setting at sunset and sit about 25° high an hour after the Sun disappears. That provides a short but usable dark-sky window, though the earlier you’re able to hunt them down, the better. As they near the horizon, the turbulent air of Earth’s atmosphere will start to fuzz out your view. The Moon doesn’t quite help, either, but at least it’s a few constellations away!
You’ll find your quarry tonight not far from the bright star Rigel in Orion. The Witch Head is less than 3° northwest of that star, and ZTF lies west-southwest of the nebula. Aim for the comet first; it is now around magnitude 10, but its concentrated coma should offer relatively good surface brightness for you to spot it. You can use magnitude 4.4 Omega (ω) Eridani as a jumping-off point: ZTF is 2° south of this star.
You’ll need a large telescope to visually locate the Witch Head, which spans an impressive 1.5° running roughly northeast to southwest. An 8-inch scope will show the brightest portions, while an 11-inch or larger will give a much better view of the entire structure. Because the Moon is out tonight, your best bet is to capture a photograph of the region, which will pick up both the comet and the nebula better than your eyes ever could. ZTF has slowed significantly and will remain nearby for several days, though the Moon is only growing brighter as it nears Full early next month.
Sunrise: 6:47 A.M.
Sunset: 7:22 P.M.
Moonrise: 12:58 P.M.
Moonset: 3:52 A.M.
Moon Phase: Waxing gibbous (65%)
Friday, March 31
Venus passes 1.3° north of Uranus at 2 A.M. EDT. You’ll have to catch the pair in the evening, when they are just slightly farther apart — 1.8° — in the west shortly after sunset and remain in the sky for almost three hours, offering ample time for viewing. (Though as usual, the earlier, the better.)
Venus is still stunningly bright at magnitude –4, impossible to miss as it pops out early against the falling twilight. It is a waning gibbous with its disk 77 percent lit. Uranus, still magnitude 5.9, will require binoculars or a scope to pick out, especially while the sky is still light but likely even after dark as well. It lies to Venus’ lower left (south-southwest) this evening.
Slow-moving Mars is still up near M35 in roughly the same position as a few days ago. But now the Moon has moved on, so the view may be easier to enjoy.
The Moon reaches apogee, the farthest point from Earth in its orbit, at 7:17 A.M. EDT. At that time, Luna sits 251,605 miles (404,919 kilometers) away.
Sunrise: 6:46 A.M.
Sunset: 7:23 P.M.
Moonrise: 1:59 P.M.
Moonset: 4:29 A.M.
Moon Phase: Waxing gibbous (74%)