March marks a turning point in the Earth’s celestial dance. This month, we approach the first equinox of the calendar year, and the seasons officially ‘change’ after the equinox passes.
While this heralds the changing of light – more for the northern hemisphere, less for the southern – there are still fantastic opportunities to see what’s up in the March night sky. Particularly, March is a great month for planet-gazing and to try and spot deep space objects during a Messier Marathon. (More on that below!)
Some of the astronomy events in March do require a telescope or binoculars; where necessary, I’ve pointed that out so you can dust off your own equipment or upgrade if you need to. Any event which doesn’t explicitly say you need equipment can be viewed with the un-aided eye, so there’s still plenty to enjoy even if you don’t have or want to invest right now.
Ready to explore the wonders of the universe this month? Read on for the best March night sky events to plan your month of stargazing.
This post was originally published in March 2018, and is updated annually – most recently in February 2023.
Featured photo credit: Brian Tomlinson via Flickr
March 2 – Close Approach of Venus & Jupiter
As you look at the sky, it’s hard to deny the almost magnetic pull of the planets to our eyes. Bright Venus and Jupiter are two of the most eye-catching and entrancing objects to spot on a night of stargazing, and the pair kick off March with a delightfully close encuonter.
While the pair won’t appear as close as Jupiter and Saturn did at the end of 2020, they will be close: just 29.4 arcminutes apart. This means you can easily use a telescope or binoculars to get a great view of both at the same time.
I’m hoping for clear skies this night as I loved seeing the Great Conjunction and would love to see two planets appear so closely together again.
March 15 – Peak of the γ-Normid Meteor Shower
And now for something different! After that series of planetary viewing opportunities and the first chance to run the Messier Marathon in 2022, mid-March welcomes a different kind of astronomical experience: the peak of theγ-Normid meteor shower on March 15th.
This southern hemisphere meteor shower runs from February 25th through March 28th, but astronomers predict that the night of greatest activity will occur on the 15th. On this night, you can expect to see up to six meteors per hour.
While the γ-Normids aren’t one of the major meteors showers in the year, viewers in the southern hemisphere can enjoy trying to spot meteors as they radiate from the constellation Norma.
March 18 – First Attempt for the Messier Marathon
Have you ever heard of the Messier Marathon? This is an opportunity to try and see all 110 Messier objects in a single night… yes, it’s an ambitious prospect!
The “best” night for the Messier Marathon each year typically happens at the new moon between March and early April, due to the Earth’s planetary position in our annual orbit. In 2023, there are actually two opportunities, the weekends on either side of the New Moon on the 21st.
As March 21st is a Tuesday, the first – and better/primary – opportunity to “run” the Messier Marathon is the weekend of March 18th-19th. On these nights, the waxing crescent moon will prevent as little interference as possible if you’re not out on the New Moon itself.
March 20 – March Equinox
The March Equinox on March 20th is not a night sky event per se, but it’s worth noting on your calendar because it marks the changing of seasons. In the northern hemisphere, winter will officially end and spring will begin; in the southern hemisphere, summer will end and autumn will begin. People have marked this date throughout history and continue to do so across the globe with all kinds of celebrations and events.
From a celestial perspective, the March Equinox marks the point on the Earth’s annual orbit when everywhere on Earth has almost exactly 12 hours of day and night. “Equinox” means “equal night,” so this makes perfect sense. The perfect balance between day and night occurs because of the distance and angles between the sun and the Earth at its 23.5° tilt.
Some archaeo-astronomers have studied sites around the world that seem to be built to mark the equinoxes. One example is Chichen Itza in Mexico. On the equinoxes, a shadow appears on the main pyramid (which is dedicated to the deity Kukulkan/Quetzalcoatl) which shows a snake sliding down the staircase. It is believed that the pyramid was built specifically so this phenomenon would occur, as the feathered serpent Kukulkan/Quetzalcoatl joins the heavens, Earth and the underworld, day and night in Maya beliefs.
March 21 – Ceres at Opposition
The only dwarf planet in the asteroid belt, Ceres is the largest object among the many millions that make up that part of the solar system. As the largest, it was the first spotted too – that’s why its designation is officially “1 Ceres.” In 2023, it’s also the first of the dwarf planets you could try and spot when it reaches opposition (the night where it is opposite the Sun from our earthly perspective, and thus well-lit for viewing).
Ceres will be in the constellation Coma Berenices and is relatively easy to spot with binoculars or a smaller telescope, thanks to its proximity to Earth.
March 24 – Close Approach/Lunar Occultation of the Moon & Venus
If there’s one unique theme to astronomical events in 2023, it’s lunar occultations. After a series of lunar occultations of Uranus in 2022, the Moon begins passing in front of – called a lunar occultation – a number of other planets. In January and February this included Mars, Jupiter, and Uranus, and in March, Venus joins the mix.
While most people in the world will only see a close visual approach between the two night sky objects (a sliver of crescent moon and bright Venus appearing just 6 arcminutes apart, to be more specific), those night sky viewers in sub-Saharan Africa, the southern end of the Arabian peninsula, and South Asia will be able to see the Moon obscure Venus entirely. (Here’s a map to help show where exactly the occultation will be visible.)
In either case, a relatively young moon plus a great chance to view Venus super close to it make this an awesome night for stargazing. (Additionally, it being a Friday night, one could attempt the Messier Marathon as well, which brings me to…)
March 25 – Second Attempt for the Messier Marathon
As already mentioned, there are two opportunities to try and spot all 110 Messier objects this month; the first was a week ago on the 18th(/19th), and the second takes place the following weekend on the night of the 25th(/26th).
If you’re out this night, a five-day-old Moon will move through your viewing range as the night passes, but proper planning will allow you to still see all of the deep space objects.
Sold on giving the Marathon a try this year? Here’s a guide specifically about how to run the Messier Marathon in 2023, if you’re so inclined to take on this ambitious stargazing endeavor.
March 28 – Close approach of the Moon & Mars
The march (or should I say March) of the close planetary approaches continues. As the month winds down, there’s a series of conjunctions that will make spotting and identifying the planets easy. This is a great chance to introduce kids to the different planets, if you’re willing to get up early to see them all in the morning sky.
First up, Mars and the Moon appear in conjunction, just 2°17′ apart, on March 28th; the first quarter Moon will make it easy to spot rust-colored Mars in the morning sky.
March 29 – Makemake at Opposition
It’s not common to have even one optimal dwarf planet-viewing opportunity in a month, much less two! After good chances to spot Pluto early in the month, Makemake is one of the final events worth seeing in the March night sky.
On March 29th, Makemake will reach opposition, and be well-illuminated and placed for viewing from our perspective here on earth. You can spot Makemake using a telescope or high-powered binoculars, in the constellation Coma Berenices. Look for it in the western sky and at its highest point (roughly 70°) around 2am ET.
That wraps it up. March was a busy month of planets moving through the sky, meteors streaking across it, and one great night for those who want to gaze deep into space. Have questions about these March night sky events? Let me know in the comments!