March 2024
The Backyard Astronomer
Adam England

Vernal Equinox and Spring Beehive

At exactly 8:06pm MST on Tuesday, March 19 the sun will again be directly over Earth’s equator. Viewed from central Yavapai County at approximately 34.54° N, we will see the sun appear to rise and set due East and due West, respectively. This is the vernal equinox, the rebirth of the northern spring, a day celebrated by cultures around the world as emergence from the long, cold winter.

Many ancient cultures began their calendars on the equinox, including Babylon and Persia, and the tradition carries through to modern times with the Indian official national calendar (Shaka calendar). The Angkor Wat complex in Cambodia was built nearly a millennium ago with near-perfect alignment to the equinoxes, including the rising and setting of the sun over the central lotus tower on those dates, as well as sculptures and carvings that depict numerical representations of the days between each of the summer and winter solstices with the central equinoxes.

Western cultures, heavily influenced by the spread of Christianity, connect the Easter celebration to the equinox. The Paschal full moon, named for the Aramaic word for Passover, denotes the first full moon following the vernal equinox, this year illuminating the night sky on March 25, after which Easter is celebrated the following Sunday. Due to the celestial mechanics of the equinox and the lunar cycle, this may place Easter as early as March 22 in some years or as late as April 25 in others.

This pattern of celebrating death and resurrection is not unique to Christianity, and was likewise observed with direct correlation to this celestial event in the Roman festival of Hilaria and the pagan holiday of Ostara. Throughout the Arab world Mother’s Day is commonly celebrated on the spring equinox.

The 2024 equinox on March 19 will see the waxing gibbous moon spend the evening in the constellation Cancer, the Crab. Lying tangent that night to one leg of a triangle connecting the bright stars Regulus, Pollux and Procyon, the moon may guide you to the Beehive Cluster, separated by just a few degrees. With over 1,000 stars, it’s one of the closest open clusters to Earth and among the best objects for a backyard astronomer to find with a small telescope or binoculars.

Lying midway between Pollux and Regulus, this stellar nursery was documented by Galileo, Messier, Shur and many other astronomers over the centuries. Add yourself to that list on this night, count how many stars you can discern in this hive of activity, then revisit the Beehive Cluster later in the month, when the bright moon has moved away, and see if you can resolve more of its bees.

If you would like to learn more about the sky, telescopes, or socialize with other amateur astronomers, visit us at or Facebook @PrescottAstronomyClub to find the next star party, Star Talk, or event.

Adam England is the owner of Manzanita Financial and moonlights as an amateur astronomer, writer, and interplanetary conquest consultant. Follow his rants and exploits on Twitter @AZSalesman or at