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. You can also use astronomy accessories to make your observing easier, and use our Satellite Tracker page powered by N2YO.com to find out when to see the International Space Station and other satellites. 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).
Monthly skywatching information is provided to Space.com by Chris Vaughan 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sky Maps and Video Guides
Best Night Sky Events of March 2017 (Stargazing Maps)
See what's up in the night sky for March 2017, including stargazing events and the moon's phases, in this Space.com gallery courtesy of Starry Night Software.
Skywatchers! Moon 'Hides' Aldebaran, Venus Phases and More In March 2017 | Video
An occultation of the star Aldebaran will occur on March 4, and it will be visible over a large portion of the United States. Also, find out why the Venus and Mercury go through phases.
Constellations and Planets In March 2017 Skywatching - Where to Look | Video
The Gemini and Cancer constellations make great targets this month. Mars, Venus, Mercury and Jupiter are you’re evening planets, while Saturn makes its presence known in the pre-dawn hours.
Sunday, March 5 at 6:32 a.m. EST-First Quarter Moon
At first quarter, the positions of the Earth, sun, and moon cause us to see one-half of the moon illuminated by the sun. The moon's bright half is on the western (right-hand) side — toward the setting sun. It rises around noontime and sets around midnight, so the moon is visible half the time by day — in the afternoon hours — and the other half at night, during the evening hours. The name quarter moon, even though it's really a "half-moon" shape, refers to the fact that, starting from new moon, our natural satellite has now completely the first quarter of its orbital journey around Earth.
Sunday, March 12 at 10:54 a.m. EST - Full Worm Moon
The March full moon, known as the Worm Moon, Crow Moon, Sap Moon or Lenten Moon, always shines in or near the stars of Leo. 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.
Monday, March 20 at 11:58 a.m. EST - Last Quarter Moon
After full phase, the moon is now waning, illuminated less every evening. At last quarter the moon rises around midnight and sets near noon. Morning commuters might take note of it, shining high in the south against the blue daytime sky. The bright half is now on the left-hand side, towards the eastern dawning sun. At last quarter, the moon is positioned ahead of the Earth in our trip around the sun. When you see it in the sky, keep in mind that about 3½ hours later, earth will occupy the same point in space where the moon is now. After last quarter, the moon begins to traverse the last quarter of its orbit in its trip around the earth as it approaches new moon.
Monday, March 27 at 10:57 p.m. EST - New Moon
The moon's orbit carries it between the earth and sun and sits in the same region of the sky where the sun is. Sunlight is only reaching the side of the moon that is turned away from us, so as a consequence it cannot be seen. Due to the moon's tilted orbit, it usually passes above or below the sun, instead of eclipsing the sun. Starting a day or two after new moon, you might catch a glimpse of the slender sliver of a waxing crescent moon low near the western horizon, as it gradually pulls away from the sun's vicinity and shifts toward the east.
Wednesday, March 1 evening – Moon near Venus and Mars
In the western early evening sky on Wednesday, March 1, the young crescent moon will form a triangular grouping with Venus and Mars. The trio will make a nice widefield photo opportunity. Use binoculars or a telescope to hunt for Uranus 2 degrees below Mars and dwarf planet Ceres sitting 14 degrees to the upper left of Mars.
Saturday, March 4 evening – Moon kisses Aldebaran
In the western sky during late evening on Saturday, March 4, observers in the continental USA will see the first quarter moon briefly pass in front of the naked eye star Aldebaran in Taurus. The dark leading edge of the moon will cover the star first (shown here for NYC at 11:10 pm EST), and then it will emerge from the opposite illuminated limb some time later. Times and duration vary by region, so observers should begin to watch before 11 pm EST. Other areas will merely see the moon graze the star, or pass near to it.
Tuesday, Mar. 14 to Monday, Mar. 27, after evening twilight – Zodiacal Light
During moonless periods in February and March annually, the steep evening ecliptic favors the appearance of the zodiacal light in the western sky for about half an hour after evening twilight ends. This is reflected sunlight from interplanetary particles of matter concentrated in the plane of the solar system. Once it's dark, during the two weeks preceding the new moon on March 27, look south of west (near Mars) for a broad wedge of faint light rising from the horizon. It will be centered on the ecliptic (marked by green line).
Tuesday, March 14 overnight – Moon meets Jupiter
Starting in late evening on Tuesday, March 14, Jupiter and the waning gibbous moon will rise together in the eastern sky about 9:40 pm local time. With the moon less than 4 degrees to the lower left of the planet, they'll fit within a binocular field of view and make a nice photo opportunity. As they slowly draw apart, the pair will cross the night sky together and be visible low in the southwestern sky before sunrise.
Monday, March 20 pre-dawn – Moon meets Saturn
Low in the eastern sky in the hours before dawn on Monday, March 20, the last quarter moon will sit 2.5 degrees above the ringed planet Saturn. With Saturn rising at 2:30 am local time, the pair is best viewed before 7 am local time.
Monday, March 20 at 6:29 a.m. EDT – Vernal Equinox
On Monday, March 20, 6:29 a.m. EDT. The sun crosses the celestial equator traveling north, marking the vernal equinox in the northern hemisphere and the beginning of Spring. Days and nights are of equal length. The sun rises due east and sets due west.
Saturday, Mar 25 and Sunday, Mar 26 evening – Mercury near Uranus
As the planet Mercury climbs the western evening sky in late March, it will pass close to distant Uranus. On Saturday, Mar. 25, Mercury will sit 2 degrees to the right of Uranus, and then climb slightly higher the following evening. The best observing times are between 8:15 and 8:45 pm local time, when Mercury should be readily visible with unaided eyes. Uranus will require binoculars or a telescope.
A few days after superior conjunction beyond the sun on March 7, Mercury commences the best evening apparition of the year for northern hemisphere observers, becoming visible low in the west after sunset from mid-month onwards. During the month, it approaches Earth – causing its disk to increase in diameter, while dropping in brightness, and waning from a nearly full disk to half illuminated. On March 18 and 19, descending Venus passes 9 degrees to the north (right) of Mercury. On March 25, Mercury moves to sit about 2 degrees to the north (right) of Uranus, with the pair of planets best seen between 8:30 and 9 pm local time. On March 29, the young crescent moon will be sitting 9 degrees to the upper left of Mercury. Peak visibility occurs at month's end with Mercury approaching greatest eastern elongation from the sun.
For the first half of March, Venus will shine brightly in the western early evening sky amid the stars of Pisces. Around mid-month, it will rapidly descend sunward into the evening twilight. While it heads towards inferior conjunction on March 25, Venus' disk will grow in diameter and wanes to a thin crescent. For a few days around this conjunction, it can be glimpsed in the morning and the evening twilight. On March 18 and 19, Venus passes 9 degrees to the north (right) of much fainter Mercury. At the end of March, Venus will be visible in the east for about 45 minutes before sunrise.
Reddish Mars remains in the western early evening sky all month, moving from Pisces into Aries on March 8. It continues to drop in brightness and disk size as we pull farther away from it. On March 1, the crescent moon will sit 5 degrees to the left of Mars, and on March 30, the moon returns to sit 7 degrees away.
Very bright Jupiter moves retrograde through the body of Virgo all month, remaining about 6 degrees above that constellation's brightest star Spica. As March begins, the planet rises in the east about 9:30. But, by the end of the month, Jupiter rises around 8:15 pm local time and remains visible all night long as it approaches opposition in early April. On March 14, the waning gibbous moon will sit 4.5 degrees to the lower left (northeast) of the planet.
Yellow tinted Saturn rises in the eastern pre-dawn sky near the Milky Way, among the stars of Sagittarius. Throughout March, it can be spotted low in the southeastern sky until just before dawn. In late March, Saturn rises about 2:30 am local time. On Monday morning, March 20, the last quarter moon will sit about 2.5 degrees above (north of) Saturn.
At magnitude 5.9, Uranus is not readily visible with unaided eyes, but binoculars or a small telescope can reveal it as a tiny blue-green dot. During March, it is descending sunwards in the southwestern evening sky among the stars of Pisces. For the first half of March, it remains observable from nightfall until mid evening, after which it becomes lost in the western twilight.
Neptune, in the constellation of Aquarius all month, reaches conjunction with the sun on March 1 and is invisible all month.
At visual magnitude 7.1, asteroid(4) Vesta is observable in binoculars or a small telescope throughout March. It is moving within the constellation of Gemini, ranging between 2.5 and 4 degrees south of the bright star Pollux.
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, while a finger covers about one degree.
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.