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. There are also a variety of interesting opportunities to get out and see some of the different objects in our night sky. From opportunities to see many of the planets in our solar system to Messier objects galore, read on to learn about all of the astronomy events in the March night sky.
Where necessary, we have noted where you may need binoculars or a telescope to help you get the best view of each celestial event. If you need a telescope to help enjoy this month’s night sky events, we have a guide to the best stargazing telescopes. From the Meade Polaris 130 (under $200) to the Orion Atlas 8 EQ-G GoTo ($2000), you can find one for your astronomy interest and budget.
Read on for the best March night sky events to plan your month of stargazing.
This post was originally published in March 2018 and was updated in February 2019, February 2020, and February 2021.
Featured photo credit: Brian Tomlinson via Flickr
March 4 – Conjunction of Jupiter & Mercury
March starts out with two astronomy events in the early days of the month; the first one is when Jupiter and Mercury share the same right ascension and have a conjunction on the morning of March 4th. Jupiter will pass within 0°19′ of Mercury.
The two will be visible in the morning sky before the sunrise. Look for them in the south-southeastern sky. They’ll reach an altitude of 10° above the horizon before the sun illuminates the sky too much to see them.
March 4 – Asteroid 4 Vesta at Opposition
Also on March 4th (though in the evening instead of the morning), asteroid 4 Vesta will reach opposition.
As its name suggests, 4 Vesta was the fourth asteroid discovered in our solar system; Vesta is one of the largest objects in the main asteroid belt with a diameter of 326 miles. In fact, it is the second-largest object in the belt after the dwarf planet Ceres – making it the largest asteroid.
On March 4th, Vesta will reach opposition and be well-illuminated for viewing here on earth. With your telescope or binoculars, look for Vesta in the constellation Leo.
March 9 – Conjunction of the Moon & Saturn
While conjunctions between the Moon and planets happen regularly, it’s always fun so see them when the Moon is at an ideal phase. That will be the case on March 9th, when there’s a conjunction between the Moon and Saturn.
After sunset, look for the Moon and Saturn in close proximity; at their closest they’ll be 3°40′ apart. The moon will be 26 days old, so a beautiful waning crescent.
March 10 – Conjunction of the Moon & Jupiter
Similar to 2020, conjunctions between the Moon and Jupiter happen close in time to those with Saturn. (They occurred most closely together in time around the Great Conjunction, which we are just a few months on from.) But in 2020, Jupiter always had its lunar conjunctions first; now the order has switched and Saturn’s happen first.
On March 10th, one day after this month’s Saturn-Moon conjunction, there will be a conjunction between the Moon and Jupiter. They will appear 4°02′ apart at their closest – too wide for a single telescope or binocular field of vision, but close enough to easily spot. Additionally, the moon will be 27 days old – an even narrower sliver of crescent than the night before.
March 13 – 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 March new moon on the 11th is the absolute best time to do the Marathon, but most of us can’t spend the whole night stargazing mid-week. Therefore, the nearest weekend night to this year’s ideal date is March 13th. If you’re really keen to try it, research if your local astronomy club has resources for die-hard stargazers like you!
Here’s a guide specifically about how to run the Messier Marathon in 2021.
March 14 – Peak of the γ-Normid Meteor Shower
After passing the full Moon on March 11th and an epic night of chasing Messier objects on the 13th, you might be wiped. But don’t slow down: the rest of March offers a number of great night sky events – starting with the peak of the γ-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 19 – Conjunction of the Moon & Mars
The Moon continues its monthly march across the March night sky, making close approaches and conjunction with other objects along the ecliptic. On March 19th, Mars will have its turn.
This night, the Moon and Mars will appear within 1°55′ of one another. You can spot both in the constellation Taurus, not far from bright Aldebaran and the Pleiades. The Moon will be six days old, close to its first-quarter phase.
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.
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 24 – 10P/Tempel at Perhelion
10P/Tempel, a periodic Jupiter-family comet, is making its way back toward the sun and us as you read this. On March 24th, 10P/Tempel will reach perihelion – its closest point to the sun during its 5-year orbital period. On this day, it will be 1.42 AU from the sun, and it will take a large telescope to spot it… but maybe it’s better to wait until later this year depending on the conditions.
10P/Tempel was discovered in 1873 and its orbital path is well mapped. Astronomers know that it will make its closest approach to earth on November 3rd, 2021. That night, 10P/Tempel will be 1.6 AU from earth.
March 27 – Makemake at Opposition
Not to be left out with all the planets, asteroids, comets, and meteors having astronomical events this month, Makemake is here to represent the dwarf planet category.
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 80°) around midnight local time.
March 28 – Venus at Greatest Brightness
We can all recognize bright Venus in the sky; are you aware that it goes through phases (much like the Moon) that affect its perceived brightness from earth?
Venus will reach its “full” phase in 2021 and shine at its greatest brightness on March 28th, reaching magnitude -3.9. This make it the third brightest object in the sky after the sun and moon by a lot (sometimes Jupiter overtakes Venus in its “new” phase). If you aren’t able to see Venus on this night due to its placement in the sky (low over the western horizon at its brightest moment), it will still appear bright on the nights surrounding this date.
Have questions about these March night sky events? Let us know in the comments!