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Night Sky: Visible Planets, Moon Phases & Events, March 2015

The night sky tonight and on any clear night offers an ever-changing display of fascinating objects you can see, from stars and constellations to bright planets, often the moon, and sometimes special events like meteor showers. Observing the night sky can be done with no special equipment, although a sky map can be very useful, and a good beginner telescope or binoculars will enhance some experiences and bring some otherwise invisible objects into view. Below, find out what’s up in the night sky tonight (Planets Visible Now, Moon Phases, Observing Highlights This Month) plus other resources (Skywatching Terms, Night Sky Observing Tips and Further Reading).

night sky watching
The night sky is more than just the moon and stars, if you know when and where to look.
Credit: Karl Tate/SPACE.com

Monthly skywatching information is provided to Space.com by Geoff Gaherty of Starry Night Education, the leader in space science curriculum solutions. Follow Starry Night on Twitter @StarryNightEdu.

Editor's note: If you have an amazing skywatching photo you'd like to share for a possible story or image gallery, please contact managing editor Tariq Malik at spacephotos@space.com. [Related: 10 Must-See Stargazing Events to Look Up for in 2015]

Night Sky Photos:

Videos

Moon Phases

Thursday, March 5, 1:05 p.m. EST

Full Moon, March 5

The Full Moon of March is known as the "Worm Moon," "Crow Moon," "Sap Moon," or "Lenten Moon." It rises around sunset and sets around sunrise; this is the only night in the month when the moon is in the sky all night long. The rest of the month, the moon spends at least some time in the daytime sky. This is the smallest Full Moon of 2015.

Friday, March 13, 1:48 p.m. EDT

Last Quarter Moon

The Last Quarter Moon rises around 2 a.m. and sets around noon. It is most easily seen just after sunrise in the southern sky.

Friday, March 20, 5:36 a.m. EDT

New Moon

The moon is not visible on the date of New Moon because it is too close to the sun, but can be seen low in the east as a narrow crescent a morning or two before, just before sunrise. It is visible low in the west an evening or two after New Moon.

Friday, March 27, 3:43 a.m. EDT

First Quarter Moon

The First Quarter Moon rises around 11:30 a.m. and sets around 2:30 a.m. It dominates the evening sky.

Observing Highlights

Zodiacal Light, March 2015
Sunday, March 8–Sunday, March 22, after evening twilight, Look to the south of west, just above Venus and Mars, for the faint zodiacal light, reflected from interplanetary matter along the ecliptic (marked by green line). Don't confuse it with the brighter Milky Way to the northwest.
Credit: Starry Night Software

Sunday, March 8–Sunday, March 22, after evening twilight

Zodiacal Light

Look to the south of west, just above Venus and Mars, for the faint zodiacal light, reflected from interplanetary matter along the ecliptic (marked by green line). Don’t confuse it with the brighter Milky Way to the northwest.

Total Solar Eclipse

Friday, March 20

The path of this eclipse sweeps across the North Atlantic Ocean, missing all inhabited land except for the Faroe Islands, northwest of Scotland, and the Svalberg Islands north of Norway.

Equinox, March 2015
Friday, March 20, 6:45 p.m. EDT. The sun crosses the celestial equator heading north, marking the beginning of Spring in the northern hemisphere and Autumn in the southern hemisphere.
Credit: Starry Night Software

Equinox

Friday, March 20, 6:45 p.m. EDT

The sun crosses the celestial equator heading north, marking the beginning of Spring in the northern hemisphere and Autumn in the southern hemisphere.

Uranus and the Moon

Saturday, March 21, 7 a.m. EDT

The moon will occult Uranus as seen from easternmost Brazil, central Africa, the Middle East, and western Asia.

Mars and the Moon

Saturday, March 21, 6 p.m. EDT

The moon will occult Mars as seen from southwestern South America.

Venus and the Moon

Sunday, March 22, after sunset

The moon and Venus will make a pretty pair in the western twilight sky.

Aldebaran and the Moon, March 2015
Tuesday, March 24, 10 p.m. EDT. The First Quarter Moon passes close to the red giant star Aldebaran and the Hyades star cluster. The bright Pleiades star cluster is off to the right. The moon will pass in front of Aldebaran for observers in northern latitudes: Kazakhstan, Russia, northeastern Scandinavia, extreme northeastern China, northern Greenland, northwestern Canada, and Alaska.
Credit: Starry Night Software

Tuesday, March 24, 10 p.m. EDT

Aldebaran and the Moon

The First Quarter Moon passes close to the red giant star Aldebaran and the Hyades star cluster. The bright Pleiades star cluster is off to the right. The moon will pass in front of Aldebaran for observers in northern latitudes: Kazakhstan, Russia, northeastern Scandinavia, extreme northeastern China, northern Greenland, northwestern Canada, and Alaska.

Planets

Mercury is a "morning star," most favourably placed for observers in the Southern Hemisphere.

Venus is an "evening star" in the southwestern sky just after sunset.

Mars spends most of the month in Pisces, but makes a brief excursion into Cetus on February 1st and 2nd.

Jupiter just past opposition will be shining brightly most of the night. It is in Cancer all month.

Saturn is just north of Scorpius' "claws," rising near midnight. It begins retrograde motion on the 14th.

Uranus vanishes into evening twilight at mid-month.

Neptune is still too close to the sun to be observed.

Skywatching Terms

  • Asterism: A noteworthy or striking pattern of stars within a larger constellation.
  • Degrees (measuring the sky): The sky is 360 degrees all the way around, which means roughly 180 degrees from horizon to horizon. It’s easy to measure distances between objects: Your fist on an outstretched arm covers about 10 degrees of sky.
  • Visual Magnitude: This is the astronomer’s scale for measuring the brightness of objects in the sky. The dimmest object visible in the night sky under perfectly dark conditions is about magnitude 6.5. Brighter stars are magnitude 2 or 1. The brightest objects get negative numbers. Venus can be as bright as magnitude minus 4.9. The full moon is minus 12.7 and the sun is minus 26.8.
  • Terminator: The boundary on the moon between sunlight and shadow.
  • Zenith: The point in the sky directly overhead.

Night Sky Observing Tips

  • Adjust to the dark: If you wish to observe faint objects, such as meteors or dim stars, give your eyes at least 15 minutes to adjust to the darkness.
  • Light Pollution: Even from a big city, one can see the moon, a handful of bright stars and sometimes the brightest planets. But to fully enjoy the heavens — especially a meteor shower, the constellations, or to see the amazing swath across the sky that represents our view toward the center of the Milky Way Galaxy — rural areas are best for night sky viewing. If you’re stuck in a city or suburban area, a building can be used to block ambient light (or moonlight) to help reveal fainter objects. If you’re in the suburbs, simply turning off outdoor lights can help.
  • Prepare for skywatching: If you plan to be out for more than a few minutes, and it’s not a warm summer evening, dress warmer than you think necessary. An hour of observing a winter meteor shower can chill you to the bone. A blanket or lounge chair will prove much more comfortable than standing or sitting in a chair and craning your neck to see overhead.
  • Daytime skywatching: When Venus is visible (that is, not in front of or behind the sun) it can often be spotted during the day. But you’ll need to know where to look. A sky map is helpful. When the sun has large sunspots, they can be seen without a telescope. However, it’s unsafe to look at the sun without protective eyewear. See our video on how to safely observe the sun, or our safe sunwatching infographic.

Further Reading

Moon Phases: How the lunar cycle works, from full moon to new moon. Also find out when is the next full moon.

Constellations: The history of the Zodiac constellations and their place in night sky observing.

Lunar Eclipses: How they work, plus find out when’s the next lunar eclipse.

Solar Eclipses: How they work, the types, and when the next one occurs.

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