March’s night Sky Guide (March 2022)

March’s night sky is filled with celestial events that may motivate you to go out, look up, and embrace the magic of space. Here’s a calendar listing of where the naked-eye planets (the five brightest planets -Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn) that can be seen with the “naked” or unaided eye.

All times are listed in Eastern Standard Time until March 13 when we move to Eastern Daylight Time.

March 1: Mercury

Mercury is one of the more difficult planets to see because it’s closest to the Sun and thus lost in the Sun’s glare. The best times for most us in the USA to see this planet is during the evening sky in the spring and morning sky in the fall.

This morning though, about a half hour before sunrise, look for the zero-magnitude planet very close to the east-southeast horizon, 22° to Venus’ lower left. Binoculars may be required to spot Mercury, especially from northern states.

March 2: New Moon at 12:35 p.M.

During the New Moon, the portion of the Moon that gets sun light is the back side of the Moon, the half we cannot see. It’s called the New Moon because it’s the beginning of the lunar cycle.

March 5: Jupiter

Jupiter passed though conjunction with the Sun and enters the morning sky.

Close up of bright Moon in first quarter phase with detailed craters in the shadow, taken with telescope, isolated in dark background.
First Quarter Moon

March 10: First Quarter Moon At 5:45 a.M.

The First Quarter Moon is also called a Half Moon because the Sun’s rays illuminate exactly 50% of the Moon’s surface. This phase happens when the Moon is at a 90 degree angle with respect to the Earth and Sun. So we see exactly the half of the Moon that gets hit by the Sun’s light.

March 13: Daylight Saving Time Returns

Today the Sun will set an hour later, not because of anything astronomical but because of us turning the clocks back an hour. (Except of course in places that don’t mess with the clock.)

March 16: Venus and Mars

Venus is in conjunction with Mars this morning, but it should be easy to spot in the dawn twilight. It is, as always, the brightest planet and rises in the east-southeast about two hours before sunup. The eerie, low glimmering of Venus is a harbinger of daybreak, which begins less than an hour after it first peeks up above the horizon. Mars on the other hand appears only 1/175 as bright. You can find it sitting about 4° to the lower right of Venus.

Mars is brightening ever so gradually (by just two-tenths of a magnitude this month) while hardly gaining any size in a telescope. It still appears as just a tiny, shimmering disk – hardly more than a messy “star” in most instruments, especially since it is at a low altitude above the horizon. But wait a few months. The red planet is slowly gathering speed for a rush into the evening sky in late summer and a good opposition in December.

March 18: Full Worm Moon at 3:18 a.M.

As the temperature begins to warm and the ground begins to thaw, earthworm casts appear, heralding the return of the robins, thus the origin of March’s full Moon, named the Full Worm Moon.

The more northern Native American tribes knew this Moon as the full Crow Moon, when the cawing of crows signaled the end of winter.

It was also referred to as the Full Crust Moon, because the snow cover becomes crusted from falling by day and freezing at night.

The Full Sap Moon marking the time of sapping maple trees is another variation.

March 20: Venus and the Vernal Equinox

Venus arrives at its greatest western elongation from the Sun (46.6°) this morning. In a telescope its crescent shape at the start of this month appears to fatten up to more-or-less half-full today and gibbous shaped by month’s end.

Also today, the Sun arrives at the equinox at 11:33 a.m. EDT, crossing the celestial equator heading north for the year. This event inaugurates spring in the Northern Hemisphere and autumn in the Southern Hemisphere.

March 24: Saturn, Mars, and Venus Triangle

Saturn still hides in the sunrise glow during the first half of March, but begins to emerge low in the east-southeastern dawn glow during the last week of this month. This morning will provide you with an excellent opportunity to identify it courtesy of two other morning planets, Venus and Mars. Today, all three will form a wide isosceles triangle low in the east-southeast about 90 minutes before sunrise. Orange Mars and slightly brighter yellow-white Saturn form the base, while dazzling Venus marks the vertex.

March 25: Last Quarter at 1:37 a.m. EDT

During this phase, from Earth, we see the Moon half-lit, but we are really seeing only one-quarter of the Moon, because the other lit part of it is on the side we can’t see. A last quarter Moon looks like a pie half eaten. It is also referred to as the third quarter Moon.

March 28: Crescent Moon Joins Venus, Saturn, and Mars

This morning, a waning crescent Moon joins Venus, Saturn and Mars. About 45 minutes before sunrise, look low toward the east-southeast horizon to sight the slender lunar sliver positioned about 7° below and to the right of Venus and 5½° below and to the left Mars. Saturn will sit about 2° below Venus; they’ll be slightly closer tomorrow morning when they’re in conjunction.

Jupiter planet in space, close up shot. Universe, solar system's giant, beautiful planet with shadow.

March 31: Back to Jupiter

Jupiter finally emerges into view, extremely low in the bright dawn this morning; however, you most definitely will need to use binoculars to scan for it, just above the eastern horizon about 25 minutes before sunrise.

We sometimes use angular degrees to define the separation between two objects, such as (for example) a bright planet and the Moon. Here’s a tip: the width of your clenched fist, held at arm’s length, measures roughly 10°. 

When we speak of magnitude, we are referring to the brightness of an object, the lower the figure of magnitude, the brighter the object. The brightest stars are zero and first magnitude.  Under a dark, clear sky, the faintest objects that you can see with just your eyes are fifth or sixth magnitude.  Objects with negative magnitudes are the brightest. Sirius, the brightest star, is -1.4. Venus can get as bright as -4.8. A Full Moon is -12.7 and the sun is a blindingly bright -26.7!

Our schedule is adapted from “Skylog,” a regular feature appearing in Natural History magazine written by Mr. Rao since 1995.

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