Night Sky in March - Hannah Schwalbe for NPS via Flickr

9 Must-See Events in the Night Sky in March 2019

In Night Sky Guideby Valerie Stimac

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 planets and dwarf planets to a star cluster and a comet, there’s plenty worth stargazing at in March.

Where necessary, we have noted (with 🚨🔭) 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.

Here are the night sky events to look for in March 2019.

March 1 – Close Approach of the Moon & Saturn

The Moon & Saturn - Cédric Allier via Flickr
Photo credit: Cédric Allier via Flickr

March starts out – and ends – with a pair of planetary approaches between the moon and visible planets in our solar system. The first is between the Moon and Saturn in the first hours of the month. In the early morning of March 1st, the Moon and Saturn will pass within 0°18′ of one another in the southwestern sky. The moon will be just 19% illuminated as a waning crescent, making for easy spotting of these two solar system objects.

You won’t need binoculars or a telescope to see Saturn, but if you have any equipment, you can use it to get a nice view of Saturn’s rings before the planet sets. Venus and Jupiter will be in the same part of the sky, so you can view three of the visible planets for this early stargazing session.

March 2 – Close Approach of the Moon & Venus

In the pre-dawn hours of March 2nd, the Moon and Venus will pass within 1°11′ of each other in the southwestern sky. At 26 days old, the moon will be a waning crescent and only 12% illuminated. It will make for an impressive sight: the sliver of the moon and bright Venus.

March 17 – Close Approach of the Moon & M44

Beehive Cluster - Rob Glover via Flickr
Photo credit: Rob Glover via Flickr

🚨🔭 Note: You’ll need binoculars or a telescope to view this event!  

After a break in the interesting celestial sights, grab your binoculars and head out on the night of March 17th. On this night, M44 (the Beehive Cluster) and the Moon will pass within 0°09′ of each other. This will occur in the evening after sunset.

The Beehive Cluster is an open star cluster in the constellation of Cancer. It’s one of the closest star clusters to earth and looks like a small cloudy nebula to the unaided eye. With a pair of binoculars or a telescope, the individual stars of the Beehive Cluster pop into view.

Unfortunately, the Moon will be approaching the Full phase and will be 82% illuminated. This may interfere with visibility if you try and observe M44 right at the moment of closest approach. Instead, head outside later (or on the 18th when you’re trying to spot Comet Taylor) and you should be able to spot the Beehive Cluster easily.

March 18 – Comet 69P/Taylor at Perihelion

Comet Garradd - Ravenshoe Group via Flickr
Photo credit: Ravenshoe Group via Flickr

🚨🔭 Note: You’ll need a telescope to view this event!  

Comets have been getting a lot of attention lately, as several notable comets have approached perihelion (a comet’s closest point to the sun) and/or passed Earth in recent months. On the night of March 18th, Comet 69P/Taylor will reach its own perihelion and be visible from earth. You’ll definitely need a telescope for this one.

Comet Taylor was first discovered in 1915 and is a periodic comet with an orbital period of approximately 7 years. That means Comet Taylor was last at perihelion in 2012 and won’t approach this close to the sun again until 2026.

Comet Taylor will reach its closest point to the sun at a distance of 2.28 AU (astronomical units). You can look for the comet in the constellation Taurus. Mars will be in the same area of the sky, so star-hop from Mars to Aldebaran – the brightest star in Taurus. Comet Taylor will be roughly 5° from Aldebaran.

March 21 – March Equinox

The March Equinox on March 21st 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 25 – Dwarf Planet Makemake is Well-Placed for Viewing

Makemake - NASA:ESA via Wikimedia Commons
Makemake and its moon as photographed by Hubble – Photo credit: NASA/ESA via Wikimedia Commons

🚨🔭 Note: You’ll need a telescope to view this event!  

While we can all admit that our favorite dwarf planet is Pluto, have you ever seen another dwarf planet? On March 25th, there’s a good chance to see Makemake, the reddish dwarf planet two-thirds the size of Pluto. Makemake is named for the creator of humanity in the Rapa Nui mythology of Easter Island.  

On the night of the 25th, Makemake will be at opposition. This means it will be most brightly illuminated by the sun. This will make it easier to try and see this distant Kuiper Belt Object.

To spot Makemake, you’ll need to find Arcturus in the constellation Boötes high in the sky. Arcturus is the fourth-brightest star in the sky, so should be eye-catching on this night. Using your telescope, move in the direction of the constellation Leo (where Regulus is the brightest star). The costellation Coma Berenices is between Boötes and Leo, and Makemake will be right in the center of the constellation. A star app may help you find it!

March 26 – Close Approach of the Moon & Jupiter

Close Approach of Jupiter & Moon - Mark Kent via Flickr
Photo credit: Mark Kent via Flickr

As mentioned, March ends with a pair of planetary close encounters just as it began. The first is between the Moon and Jupiter, which make their close approach in the morning predawn hours of March 26th. The Moon and Jupiter will pass within 1°52′ of each other.

The Moon will be 21 days old and 60% illuminated. This will likely cause some light interference if you’re trying to view Jupiter closely through binoculars or a telescope. However, it should still be possible to spot Jupiter’s four Galilean moons.

March 28 – Close Approach of the Moon & Saturn

Saturn gets a second close approach with the Moon in March, on the morning of March 28th. On this night, they’ll pass within 0°03′ of each other – even closer than at the beginning of the month! Unfortunately, this close approach offers a worse viewing opportunity. The moon will be 40% illuminated and likely cause more light interference than on March 1st. If you really want to see Saturn this month, it’s better to try on the earlier date.

March 29 – Close Approach of the Moon & Pluto

Night Sky Events - Pluto - NASA Goddard via Flickr
New Horizons image of Pluto – Photo credit: NASA Goddard via Flickr

🚨🔭 Note: You’ll need a telescope to view this event!  

Speaking of Pluto, grab your telescope on the morning of March 29th if you want to see the once-ninth planet of our solar system. The Moon will be somewhat bright and 37% illuminated on the 29th. This may interfere with your ability to see Pluto when it passes within 0°18′ of the moon. Saturn will also be visible in this part of the sky, so even if you can’t spot Pluto.

Have questions about these night sky events in March? Email us!

Featured photo credit: Hannah Schwalbe for NPS via Flickr

About the Author
Valerie Stimac

Valerie Stimac

Valerie is the founder and editor of Space Tourism Guide. She decided to start the site after realizing how many friends and family had never seen the Milky Way, and that space tourism was going to unlock the next great travel destination: space!