Look Up At The Night Sky (March 2020)

Here is a listing of celestial events you’ll want to look for during the month of March. All times are listed as Eastern Time for the Northern Hemisphere.

Take note that we sometimes will use angular degrees to define the separation between two objects, such as (for example) the Moon and a bright planet. Keep in mind that the width of your clenched fist, held at arm’s length, measures roughly 10°.

March 2– First Quarter Moon at 2:57 p.m. In this phase, the Moon looks like a half-Moon in the sky. One-half of the Moon is illuminated by direct sunlight while the illuminated part is increasing, on its way to becoming a full Moon.

March 4 – About 90 minutes before sunrise, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn will be strung out diagonally in that order from upper right to lower left, low in the southeast sky; Jupiter equally spaced by 8° from Mars and Saturn. During the balance of the month, the arrangement of these three worlds will noticeably change. The main reason being that Mars moves rapidly eastward, while Jupiter and especially Saturn’s motion are more sluggish. Thus their positions relative to each other will change in an interesting manner through this month.

March 8 – Daylight Saving Time returns on this second Sunday in March. Except in the states of Arizona and Hawaii, and the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, clocks are to be moved forward one hour at 2:00 a.m.

March 9 – March’s Full Worm Moon at 1:48 p.m. EDT. In this phase, the visible Moon is fully illuminated by direct sunlight. Though the Moon is only technically in this phase for a few seconds, it is considered “full” for the entire day of the event and appears full for three days. The Full Moon of March always shines near the position of the autumnal equinox, near the border of the constellations Leo and Virgo. This is so because the Sun is near the Spring Equinox and the Full Moon lies opposite to the Sun. Both rise and set nearly due east and west in March and September. This full Moon will also be a Supermoon, the first of two we’ll have in 2020. See how this Moon got its many names in our short video, below.

March 10 – Mercury having passed inferior conjunction on February 26th, becomes a morning object in March. Binoculars are essential to find it during this unfavorable apparition for mid-northern observers. From now through the 31st, Mercury rises in the east-southeast about an hour before the sun and more than doubles in apparent brightness during this time frame.

March 16 – Last Quarter Moon at 5:34 a.m. In this phase, the Moon appears as a half Moon due to the direct sunlight, the illuminated part is decreasing toward the new Moon phase.

March 1619 – These next several mornings, an hour before sunrise, watch for the waning crescent Moon to pair up with 4 planets: Jupiter and Mars rise first, followed by Saturn, and then Mercury. But be sure to catch it before morning twilight!

March 18 – Mars, Jupiter, and the waning crescent Moon cluster together low in the predawn southeast sky. About two hours before sunrise, the Moon will be below Mars, with the planet standing off its upper cusp, and Jupiter above and to the left. Slowly, the Moon will move past Mars and toward Jupiter, but the rising sun will brighten the sky and cause Jupiter to disappear before the moon can pass it.

March 19 – Spring begins in the Northern Hemisphere and autumn begins in the Southern Hemisphere at 11:50 p.m. At this time, the Sun appears to cross the celestial equator moving north. This is the earliest that the vernal equinox has occurred in 124 years!

March 20 – Mars and Jupiter are in conjunction this morning; Mars passes 0.7° to the lower right of the much brighter Jupiter.

March 23 – This morning, Mercury pulls out to its greatest western elongation (maximum angular separation) of 27.8 degrees from the Sun — about the maximum ever possible. This makes for a superb apparition for observers in the Southern Hemisphere. But at mid-northern latitudes, this speedy little planet climbs just 5° high in a bright twilight sky about 30 minutes before sunup and will likely require binoculars to glimpse.

March 24 – Venus is the lone evening planet, shining like a sequined showgirl high in the western sky as twilight fades to black. During late March it reaches the summit of a magnificent climb into the evening sky. The circumstances of its apparitions repeat themselves almost exactly every eight years, so this is the highest Venus has gotten in the evening since 2012; it won’t do so again until 2028. Around sunset you should already be able to find it, gleaming like a speck of silver, roughly halfway up in the western sky. This evening, Venus attains its greatest angular separation from the sun, when it sets a full four hours after the sun for mid-northern observers. In a telescope, Venus typically appears exactly half illuminated a few days before a greatest evening elongation. Look for yourself and try to ascertain on which night the terminator (the line dividing light and dark on Venus) looks the straightest.

March 24 – New Moon at 5:28 a.m. In this phase, the Moon is not illuminated by direct sunlight and is completely invisible to the naked eye.

March 26 – As was the case on March 4th, our three morning planets are equally spaced again but much closer together, Jupiter and Mars and Mars and Saturn each separated by only 3½°; going from right to left: Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn.

March 28 – Although they are widely separated by nearly 8°, Venus and a lovely crescent moon make for an eye-catching sight in this evening’s sky, the Moon appearing to the far left of Venus. Notice also the Pleiades star cluster about 5° above Venus. The brilliant planet is well below the Pleiades as March begins. But it is heading almost directly toward the cluster and is only a couple of degrees below it by month’s end.

March 31 – Mars finishes the month passing 0.9° to the lower right of Saturn. They’ll make for an eye-catching pair, partly because of their color contrast (Mars orange-yellow, Saturn yellow-white) and also because they are of nearly the same brightness.

By Farmers’ Almanac Astronomer Joe Rao. This calendar is adapted from “Skylog,” a regular feature appearing in Natural History magazine written by Mr. Rao since 1995. 

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