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 2022
Featured photo credit: Brian Tomlinson via Flickr
March 3 – Conjunction of Mars & Pluto
If there’s a theme for this month’s night sky events, it’s all about conjunctions! In short, a conjunction occurs whenever two objects in the night sky appear close together and moving in the same direction. They obviously aren’t close together physically; conjunctions are all a matter of perspective!
The first conjunction of March is actually a great opportunity to pull out your telescope or binoculars, if you have them. Mars and Pluto will be in conjunction, though their moment of closest visual approach will be better suited for those in the eastern hemisphere or far western hemisphere.
To spot the pair – or use Mars to find Pluto, look in the eastern sky in the hours before dawn. When you see Mars rising, Pluto is nearby; a star-finder app will help you spot the distant dwarf planet using Mars as a guide.
March 5 – Conjunction of Venus & Pluto
If you miss spotting Mars and Pluto together on the morning of the 3rd – or get clouded out – never fear; there’s another opportunity to use a nearby planet to find faraway Pluto. On the morning of March 5th, Venus and Pluto will be in conjunction – and Mars will still be nearby. Look for our bright neighbors and use a night sky app plus your telescope or binoculars to try and see Pluto.
March 5 – Best Night 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 2022, that means there are actually two opportunities – one around the new moon in March (March 2nd) and another around the full moon in April (April 1st).
As March 2nd is a week night, that makes the weekend of March 5th the best time to attempt a Messier Marathon in March 2022 – but the better weekend is actually April 2nd, so for the first time ever, I’ll include the Messier Marathon in my April night sky events list too!
Here’s a guide specifically about how to run the Messier Marathon in 2022, if you’re so inclined to take on this ambitious stargazing endeavour.
March 7 – Lunar Occultation of Uranus
Remember back in February, when I mentioned the first lunar occultation of Uranus? Here’s your next opportunity… if you live in the South Pacific, that is! For a small number of islands east of New Zealand, you’ll have the chance to see the Moon pass in front of Uranus.
For the rest of us living in other parts of the world, we’ll need to wait for future occultations. Don’t forget, there are still 8 more happening in 2022!
March 12 – Conjunction of Venus & Mars
Mars and Venus are still hanging out together in the morning sky, if you haven’t spotted them yet. On the morning of March 12th, they’ll be in conjunction, rising together before the sun follows them about two hours later and makes them hard to see. Look for the pair about 3°59′ apart (the width of your four fingers held at arms length), with bright Jupiter and Saturn in the same general part of the southern sky.
March 14 – 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 14th.
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 14th. 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 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 archaeoastronomers 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 27 – Conjunction of the Moon & Mars
The march (or should I say March) of the conjunctions 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 on March 27th; the waning crescent moon will make it easy to spot rust-colored Mars in the morning sky.
March 28 – Conjunction of the Moon, Venus & Saturn
The next night there are two more chances to let the Moon guide your planet-gazing activities. Venus and the Moon will make a close visual approach first, appearing about 6°40′ apart. Then, the waning moon will move toward Saturn, passing an apparent 4°25′ apart. All of this will occur within a few pre-dawn hours, perfect for early risers.
March 28 – 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 27th, 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 71°) around 2am ET.
March 29 – Conjunction of Venus & Saturn
Though they’ve both had conjunctions with other planets and the Moon, it’s time to round out this month of conjunctions with a close approach between Venus and Saturn. On the morning of March 29th, they’ll appear just 2°09′ apart. While this is too far to fit within the view of a telescope, you should be able to spot the pair with binoculars, or move easily between them with your telescope.
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!