Monthly skywatching information is provided to Space.com by Chris Vaughan of Starry Night Education, the leader in space science curriculum solutions. Follow Starry Night on Twitter @StarryNightEdu and Chris at @Astrogeoguy.
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Tuesday, March 1 – Mars Marches with Venus (predawn)
During most of March, the planets Venus and March will be shining together in the southeastern sky before dawn — making a terrific photo opportunity. On any clear morning, find extremely bright Venus in the lower part of the southeastern sky, and then look for 250 times fainter Mars positioned a slim palm’s width below it. On March 1, the magnitude 7.6 minor planet (4) Vesta will be located a thumb’s width above Mars. The two planets will be travelling eastward near the ecliptic until mid-month. After that, Venus will swing sunward while Mars is carried west with the rest of the stars.
Wednesday, March 2 – Mercury Passes Saturn (predawn)
Look low in the east-southeastern sky at dawn on the mornings centered on Wednesday, March 2 to see the speedy planet Mercury pass close to Saturn. The two planets will be binoculars-close (large green circle) from Monday to Friday, with Mercury approaching from the upper right (celestial west). At closest approach on Wednesday morning, twice as bright Mercury will sit only a finger’s width to the lower right (or 0.7 degrees to the celestial south) of Saturn — close enough for them to share the view in a backyard telescope (small green circle). On the following mornings Mercury will shift to Saturn’s lower left. The conjunction will be more easily seen from southerly latitudes, where the planets will shine higher, and in a darker sky. (For eye safety, turn all optical aids away from the eastern horizon before sunrise.)
Wednesday, March 2 – New Moon (at 17:35 GMT)
At 12:35 p.m. EST or 17:35 GMT on Wednesday, March 2, the moon will officially reach its new moon phase. At that time it will be located approximately 5.5 degrees south of the sun, in Aquarius. While at the new phase, the moon is travelling between Earth and the sun. Since sunlight can only reach the far side of a new moon, and the moon is in the same region of the sky as the sun, our natural satellite becomes completely hidden from view for about a day.
Saturday, March 5 – Mars Passes Messier 75 (predawn)
In the southeastern sky before dawn sky on Saturday, March 5, the path of the reddish planet Mars (labeled track with date:time) will carry it close to a globular star cluster known as Messier 75 and NGC 6864. The planet and the cluster will be close enough to one another to share the view in a backyard telescope (green circle) from Friday to Sunday. At closest approach on Saturday, Mars will sit a finger’s width to the upper left (or 0.7 degrees to the celestial north) of the magnitude 9.2 cluster — but your optics may flip and/or invert that arrangement. Observers at southerly latitudes, where Mars will sit higher, will get better views of the event. The dwarf planet Pluto will be located just 1.5 degrees to the west of that cluster, too — but that extremely faint object is beyond the reach of backyard telescopes.
Sunday, March 6 – Crescent Moon Meets Uranus (evening)
In the western sky after dusk on Sunday, March 6, the waxing crescent moon will be located a short distance below (or celestial west) of the magnitude 6.8 planet Uranus. By the time Uranus sets in late evening, the moon’s orbital motion will have carried it closer to the planet, especially for observers in the western Americas. Observers in parts of eastern Antarctica, southeastern Australia, southeastern Melanesia, and southwestern Polynesia can watch the moon occult Uranus in the period around 07:30 GMT.
Tuesday, March 8 – Crescent Moon and Ceres in Taurus (evening)
In the western sky on Tuesday evening, March 8, the nearly half-illuminated moon will shine among the stars of Taurus, the Bull. The prominent Pleiades star cluster will be positioned several finger widths to the moon’s right (celestial northwest) and the bright, orange star Aldebaran will appear twice as far on the moon’s upper left. To better see the Pleiades’ stars, keep the moon beyond the left side of your binoculars’ field of view (green circle). Over several hours, the orbital motion of the moon (green line) will lift it higher compared to the surrounding stars and towards the magnitude 8.8 minor planet Ceres. During a period around 08:45 GMT on Wednesday, March 9, observers in western and northern Australia, eastern Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, northern Melanesia, Micronesia, and northern Polynesia (except Hawaii) can see the moon occult Ceres.
Thursday, March 10 – First Quarter Moon (at 10:45 GMT)
When the moon completes the first quarter of its orbit around Earth at 5:45 a.m. EST (or 10:45 GMT) on Thursday, March 10, the relative positions of the Earth, sun, and moon will cause us to see our natural satellite half-illuminated – on its eastern side. While at first quarter, the moon always rises around noon and sets around midnight, allowing it to be seen in the afternoon daytime sky, too. The evenings surrounding first quarter are the best for viewing the lunar terrain when it is dramatically lit by low-angled sunlight.
Saturday, March 12 – The Lunar Straight Wall (evening)
On Saturday evening, March 12, the pole-to-pole terminator that divides the lit and dark hemispheres of the waxing gibbous moon, will fall to the left (or lunar west) of Rupes Recta, also known as the Lunar Straight Wall. The rupes, Latin for “cliff”, is a north-south aligned fault scarp that extends for 65 miles (110 km) across the southeastern part of Mare Nubium, which sits in the lower third of the moon’s Earth-facing hemisphere. The wall, which is visible in good binoculars and backyard telescopes, is most prominent a day or two after first quarter, and also the days before last quarter. For reference, the very bright crater Tycho is located due south of the Straight Wall.
Sunday, March 13 – Daylight Saving Time Begins (at 2 a.m.)
For jurisdictions that adopt Daylight Saving Time (DST), clocks should be set forward by one hour at 2 a.m. local time on Sunday, March 13. For stargazers, the time change, and the fact that sunset occurs 1 minute later each day near the March equinox, will mean that dark-sky observing cannot commence until much later in the evening — possibly after the bedtime of junior astronomers. The difference from local time to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), and the astronomers’ Universal Time (UT), will decrease by one hour when DST is in effect. Daylight Saving Time will end on November 6, 2022.
Sunday, March 13 – Mare Imbrium’s Golden Handle (all night)
On Sunday night, March 13, the terminator on the waxing gibbous moon will fall west of Sinus Iridum, the Bay of Rainbows. The circular 155 mile (249 km) diameter feature is a large impact crater that was flooded by the same basalts that filled the much larger Mare Imbrium to its east — forming a rounded “handle” on the western edge of that mare. The “Golden Handle” effect is produced when sunlight strikes the prominent Montes Jura mountain range surrounding Sinus Iridum on the north and west. Sinus Iridum is almost craterless, but hosts a set of northeast-oriented wrinkle ridges that are revealed at this phase.
Monday, March 14 – Moon Nears the Beehive (before dawn)
In the hours between midnight and dawn on Monday morning, March 14, look in the western sky for the waxing gibbous moon shining to the left (or celestial northeast) of the huge open star cluster in Cancer known as the Beehive, Praesepe, and Messier 44. The moon and the cluster will be close enough to share the field of binoculars (green circle), but you’ll see more of the “bees” if you tuck the moon just out of sight on the right.
Tuesday, March 15 – Moon Occults Eta Leonis (after 7:55 p.m. EDT)
On Tuesday, March 15, observers in eastern North America and northwestern Africa can see the nearly full moon cross in front of, or occult, the bright, magnitude 3.45 star named Eta Leonis and Algeiba, in Leo. Surrounding regions will see the moon pass very close to the star. Occultations of bright stars can be watched through backyard telescopes and binoculars. The start and end times for the event vary by location. Use an astronomy app like Starry Night to look up the times for your site. In Montreal, the unlit leading edge of the moon will cover the star at 7:56 p.m. EDT (or 23:56 GMT). Eta Leonis will pop out from behind the bright, trailing edge of the moon, near Mare Crisium, at 9:04 p.m. EDT (or 01:04 GMT on March 16). For best results, start watching several minutes ahead of each of the times quoted.
Wednesday, March 16 – Venus Closest to Mars (predawn)
In the lower part of the southeastern sky before dawn on Wednesday, March 16, extremely bright Venus and much fainter Mars will reach their minimum separation of 3.9 degrees — making a nice photo opportunity. That’s more than close enough for them to share the field of view in binoculars (green circle). Mars will be positioned several finger widths to the lower right (celestial south) of Venus. The two planets will be nearly as close on the surrounding mornings. After Wednesday, Venus’ swing sunward will steadily increase its distance from Mars.
Thursday, March 17 – Comparing the Twins (evening)
While the moon is bright and the planets are absent, skywatchers can still enjoy viewing bright stars. The twin stars of Gemini, Castor and Pollux, shine high in the southwestern sky after dusk. A closer look with your unaided eyes or binoculars (green circle) will reveal that the twins are quite dissimilar. The left-hand (easterly) star Pollux is nearly twice as bright as sibling Castor to its right (west). Pollux’ K0 spectral class gives it a warmer color than does white, A1-class Castor. In a backyard telescope Castor is revealed to be a delightful multiple star system, with several fainter companions distributed around a bright, close-together pair.
Friday, March 18 – Full Worm Moon (at 07:18 GMT)
The March full moon will occur on Friday, March 18 at 3:18 a.m. EDT (or 07:18 GMT), causing it to appear full in the Americas on both Thursday night and Friday night. The March full moon, known as the Worm Moon, Crow Moon, Sap Moon or Lenten Moon, always shines in or near the stars of Leo or Virgo. The indigenous Ojibwe people of the Great Lakes region call the March full moon Ziissbaakdoke-giizis “Sugar Moon” or Onaabani-giizis, the “Hard Crust on the Snow Moon”. For them it signifies a time to balance their lives and to celebrate the new year. The Cree of North America call it Mikisiwipisim, the “the Eagle Moon” – the month when the eagle returns. The Cherokee call it Anvyi, the “Windy Moon”, when the planting cycle begins anew. Full moons always rise in the east as the sun sets, and set in the west at sunrise. When fully illuminated, the moon’s geology is enhanced, especially the contrast between the ancient cratered highlands and the younger smoother maria.
Saturday, March 19 – Full Moon Occults Porrima (after 04:52 GMT)
In the wee hours of Saturday, March 19, observers in northeastern North America and the North Atlantic can see the full moon cross in front of, or occult, the bright, magnitude 3.4 double star named Gamma Virginis and Porrima, in Virgo. Surrounding regions will see the moon pass very close to the star. Occultations of bright stars can be watched through backyard telescopes and binoculars. The start and end times for the event vary by location. Use an astronomy app like Starry Night to look up the times for your site. In Halifax, Nova Scotia, the bright, leading edge of the moon will cover the two stars at 1:52 a.m. EDT (or 04:52 GMT on March 20). Porrima’s pair will pop out from behind the darkened, trailing edge of the moon, near Mare Fecunditatis, at 3:05 a.m. EDT (or 06:05 GMT on March 20). For best results, start watching several minutes ahead of each of the times quoted.
Sunday, March 20 – Venus at Greatest Western Elongation (predawn)
On Sunday, March 20, Venus will reach its maximum angle from the sun for the current appearance — 46.5 degrees west. At that time the planet will shine at a brilliant magnitude -4.5 in the lower part of the southeastern sky for about 90 minutes before sunrise. Viewed in a telescope (inset), the planet will exhibit a half-illuminated phase and an apparent disk diameter of 24.6 arc-seconds. Mars and Saturn will shine nearby.
Sunday, March 20 – March Equinox (at 15:33 GMT)
On Sunday, March 20 at 11:33 a.m. EDT (or 15:33 GMT) the sun will cross the celestial equator traveling north, marking the vernal equinox in the northern hemisphere and the beginning of northern spring. Days and nights will be of equal length on that day, and the sun will rise due east and set due west. At mid-northern latitudes on the March equinox, the amount of daylight added to each day reaches its maximum of 3 minutes.
Monday, March 21 – Mercury Close to Jupiter (before sunrise)
Just before sunrise on the morning of Sunday, March 20, observers in the tropics and the Southern Hemisphere can look for the bright planets Jupiter and Mercury shining together just above the eastern horizon. Jupiter will be three times brighter than Mercury. The two planets will be binoculars-close (large green circle) from Friday through Thursday. Mercury’s rapid eastward orbital motion will cause it to steadily descend from above Jupiter to below it during that week. At closest approach on Monday, Jupiter will shine only a finger’s width to the left (celestial north) of Mercury, allowing the giant planet and its moons to share the field of view in a backyard telescope with Mercury. (Be sure to direct all optics away from the area before the sun rises.)
Tuesday, March 22 – Zodiacal Light (after dusk)
If you live in a location where the sky is free of light pollution, you can look for the Zodiacal Light, which will appear during the two weeks that precede the new moon on Friday, April 1. After the evening twilight has disappeared, you’ll have about half an hour to check the western sky for a broad wedge of faint light extending upwards from the horizon and centered on the ecliptic below the Pleiades cluster. That glow is the zodiacal light – sunlight scattered from countless small dust particles that populate the plane of our solar system. Recent studies point to Mars as a major contributor to the dust. Don’t confuse the zodiacal light with the winter Milky Way, which extends upwards from the southwestern evening horizon at this time of year.
Wednesday, March 23 – Moon Above Antares (midnight to dawn)
Between midnight and dawn on Wednesday, March 23, the waning gibbous moon will shine near the bright, reddish star Antares, “the Rival of Mars” and the brightest star in Scorpius. Look for the duo positioned low in the southeastern sky during the wee hours of the night, and then partway up the southern sky before dawn. The moon will be positioned several finger widths above (celestial north of) the star the entire time.
Friday, March 25 – Third Quarter Moon (at 05:37 GMT)
The moon will officially reach its third quarter phase at 1:37 a.m. EST or 05:37 GMT on Friday, March 25. At third (or last) quarter the moon is half-illuminated, on its western, sunward side. It will rise around midnight, and then remain visible until it sets in the western daytime sky in late morning. Third quarter moons are positioned ahead of the Earth in our trip around the Sun. About 3½ hours later, Earth will occupy that same location in space. The week of dark, moonless evening skies that follow this phase are ideal for observing deep sky targets.
Monday, March 28 – Old Moon Meets Mars, Venus, and Saturn (predawn)
A pretty sight will greet early risers on the morning of Monday, March 28, when the old, crescent moon will be shining below the grouping of Mars, Venus, and Saturn in the southeastern sky. The grouping will make a fantastic photo opportunity, too. The moon will be last to rise, just before 5:30 a.m. local time. Extremely bright Venus will dominate the scene at top left. The much fainter, yellowish dot of Saturn will sit two finger widths below Venus, and similarly bright, reddish Mars will shine nearly a palm’s width off to their right. The moon will pass a palm’s width below (celestial south of) those planets. It will steadily migrate from west to east as each time zone on Earth gets the chance to enjoy the show.
Tuesday, March 29 – Venus Nearest Saturn (predawn)
Although the crescent moon will have moved away from them after 24 hours, the gathering of the three bright planets Venus, Saturn, and Mars in the southeastern predawn sky will continue on Tuesday, March 29. This morning, Saturn and Venus will reach their minimum separation from one another of 2.2 degrees — more than close enough to see them together in binoculars (green circle), which might reveal Venus’ half-moon shape and Saturn’s elongated dot. Venus’ swing sunward will increase its distance from Saturn and Mars on each subsequent morning.
Wednesday, March 30 – Old Moon and Jupiter (predawn)
On Wednesday morning, March 30, the very slim crescent of the old moon hop to sit a palm’s width to the lower right (or 5.5 degrees to the celestial southwest) of Jupiter’s bright dot. At mid-northern latitudes, the duo will be just above the eastern horizon around 6:30 a.m. local time — and barely visible amidst the twilight glow. Observers in the tropics and the Southern Hemisphere, where the ecliptic will be vertical, will see them easily. There, the moon will be positioned to Jupiter’s upper right.
As March begins, Mercury will continue with its best morning apparition of the year for observers in the Southern Hemisphere, where it will shine in a dark sky among the stars of eastern Capricornus and Aquarius. The planet will be easily visible there during the first half of March while it descends sunward, and then become increasingly embedded within the dawn twilight. Mercury will pass only 0.7 degrees south of somewhat fainter Saturn on March 2 and then 1.2 degrees south of Jupiter on March 21. That second conjunction will be difficult to see because the two planets will be only 12 degrees west of the sun. Meanwhile, observers at mid-Northern latitudes will not be able to see Mercury at all after the first few mornings of March. Regardless of viewing location, the swift planet will brighten continuously from magnitude -0.1 to -1.8 during the month. Viewed in a telescope, the planet’s phase will wax from 76%-illuminated to full and its apparent disk diameter will shrink.
Venus will continue to dominate the southeastern predawn sky during March. It will be accompanied by 250 times fainter Mars, which will be traveling on a parallel course, but offset 5 degrees to the south of Venus. The two planets will pass from Sagittarius into Capricornus on March 7 and then move to within 3.9 degrees of one another on March 16. Four mornings later Venus will reach its greatest elongation, 46.5 degrees west of the sun. Once Venus starts sunward again, it will slowly increase its angle from Mars and shift towards Saturn — but during the final week of the month, those three planets will be grouped close enough to share the field of view in binoculars. On March 28, the old crescent moon will pass to the south of the three planets, making a lovely photo opportunity. The following morning, Venus will pass only 2.2 degrees north of Saturn. Venus will diminish slightly in apparent brightness during March, after starting the month at magnitude -4.7. Viewed in a telescope, Venus will exhibit an illuminated phase that increases from 38% to 55%, while its apparent disk diameter shrinks from 31.4 to 21.9 arc-seconds. Observers in the tropics and the Southern Hemisphere, where the ecliptic will be near-vertical, will have better views of Venus all month long.
Throughout March, Mars will be observable in the southeastern predawn sky, shining a short distance to the lower right (or celestial southwest) of much brighter Venus. The red planet will close to within 4 degrees of Venus on March 16, and then their separation will increase as Venus swings sunward. On March 5, Mars will pass only 0.7 degrees to the north of the magnitude 9.2 globular star cluster Messier 75 in eastern Sagittarius. Mars will then spend the rest of the month traveling eastward through northern Capricornus, passing just to the south of the magnitude 4 star Theta Capricorni on March 25. Mars’ celestial path will be carrying it directly towards Saturn. That planet’s slower eastward motion will allow Mars to decrease their separation to 3 degrees on March 31. (They’ll have a very close conjunction on April 5.) During the final week of the month, Venus, Mars, and Saturn will be grouped enough to share the field of view in binoculars. On March 28, the old crescent moon will pass to the south of them, making a lovely photo opportunity. After starting the month at magnitude 1.25, Mars will slightly brighten during March. In a telescope, it will exhibit an apparent disk diameter that grows from 4.7 to 5.2 arc-seconds.
Jupiter will pass solar conjunction on March 5. The tilted morning ecliptic will prevent the -2.0 planet from becoming observable at mid-northern latitudes until the closing days of March — but observers in the tropics and in the Southern Hemisphere should be able spot Jupiter sitting low above the eastern horizon before sunrise from mid-month onward. Observers there should plan to see Jupiter’s telescope-close conjunction with Mercury on March 21 and then a visit from the old crescent moon on March 30.
Saturn will increase its elongation west of the sun from 22 degrees to 49 degrees during March, allowing the ringed planet to break free of the predawn twilight before month’s end. The severely tilted morning ecliptic will hold Saturn close to the east-southeastern horizon for mid-northern Hemisphere observers, but those in the tropics and the Southern Hemisphere will enjoy views of the planet shining higher, and in a dark sky among the stars of northern Capricornus, all month long. The planet Mercury will pass telescope-close to Saturn on March 2. After that, Saturn will be carried steadily towards Venus and Mars. The three planets will gather binoculars-close during the final week of the month. The presence of the old crescent moon south of them on March 28 will produce an especially fine photo opportunity. Saturn will begin the month at magnitude 0.78 and then fade slightly during March. In a telescope, the planet’s apparent diameter will span 15.5 arc-seconds.
Magnitude 5.8 Uranus will be observable in binoculars and telescopes in the western sky during early evening in March, but its descent sunward will make views of it increasingly challenging towards month-end. Uranus’ small, blue-green dot will be moving slowly eastwards through southern Aries, approximately 11 degrees southeast of that constellation’s brightest stars, Hamal and Sheratan, and only 5 degrees from the medium-bright star Mu Ceti to its south. The planet will be best viewed right after dusk, when it will be higher in the southwestern sky. On March 6, the waxing crescent moon will be located a short distance below (or celestial west) of the magnitude 6.8 planet Uranus. Observers in parts of eastern Antarctica, southeastern Australia, southeastern Melanesia, and southwestern Polynesia can watch the moon occult Uranus on that date in the period around 07:30 GMT — the second of 15 consecutive monthly lunar occultations of the seventh planet.
Distant, blue Neptune will pass solar conjunction on March 13, and then enter the eastern predawn sky. Unfortunately, its position south of the tilted ecliptic will prevent faint 8th magnitude Neptune from being observable in mid-northern latitude locations before late April.
Gibbous: Used to describe a planet or moon that is more than 50% illuminated.
Asterism: A noteworthy or striking pattern of stars within a larger constellation.
Degrees (measuring the sky): The sky is 360 degrees all the way around, which means roughly 180 degrees from horizon to horizon. It’s easy to measure distances between objects: Your fist on an outstretched arm covers about 10 degrees of sky, while a finger covers about one degree.
Visual magnitude: This is the astronomer’s scale for measuring the brightness of objects in the sky. The dimmest object visible in the night sky under perfectly dark conditions is about magnitude 6.5. Brighter stars are magnitude 2 or 1. The brightest objects get negative numbers. Venus can be as bright as magnitude minus 4.9. The full moon is minus 12.7 and the sun is minus 26.8.
Terminator: The boundary on the moon between sunlight and shadow.
Zenith: The point in the sky directly overhead.
Night Sky Observing Tips
Adjust to the dark: If you wish to observe fainter objects, such as meteors, dim stars, nebulas, and galaxies, give your eyes at least 15 minutes to adjust to the darkness. Avoid looking at your phone’s bright screen by keeping it tucked away. If you must use it, set the brightness to minimum — or cover it with clingy red film.
Light Pollution: Even from a big city, one can see the moon, a handful of bright stars, and the brightest planets — if they are above the horizon. But to fully enjoy the heavens — especially a meteor shower, the fainter constellations, or to see the amazing swath across the sky that is the disk of our home galaxy, the Milky Way — rural areas are best for night sky viewing. If you’re stuck in a city or suburban area, use a tree or dark building to block ambient light (or moonlight) and help reveal fainter sky objects. If you’re in the suburbs, simply turning off outdoor lights can help.
Prepare for skywatching: If you plan to be outside for more than a few minutes, and it’s not a warm summer evening, dress more warmly than you think is necessary. An hour of winter observing can chill you to the bone. For meteor showers, a blanket or lounge chair will prove to be much more comfortable than standing, or sitting in a chair and craning your neck to see overhead.
Daytime skywatching: On the days surrounding first quarter, the moon is visible in the afternoon daytime sky. At last quarter, the moon rises before sunrise and lingers into the morning daytime sky. When Venus is at a significant angle away from the sun it can often be spotted during the day as a brilliant point of light — but you’ll need to consult an astronomy app to know when and where to look for it. When large sunspots develop on the sun, they can be seen without a telescope — as long as you use proper solar filters, such as eclipse glasses. Permanent eye damage can occur if you look at the sun for any length of time without protective eyewear.