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).
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Night Sky Photos:
- Amazing Night Sky Photos by Stargazers: February 2014
- Best Night Sky Events of February 2014: Stargazing Sky Maps (Gallery)
- 100 Most Spectacular Night Sky Photos of 2013
- See All the Planets in February 2014 | Skywatching Video
- Jupiter's Blazes Bright Near Orion's 'Supergiants' | February 2014 Skywatching Video
Sky Events March 2014
Saturday, March 1, 3:00 a.m. EST
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. This is the first of two New Moons this month.
Saturday, March 8, 8:27 a.m. EST
First Quarter Moon
The First Quarter Moon rises around 11 a.m. and sets around 2 a.m. It dominates the evening sky.
Sunday, March 16, 1:08 p.m. EDT
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, 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.
Sunday, March 23, 9:46 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.
Sunday, March 30, 2:45 p.m. EDT
This is the second New Moon this month. There is no special name for this event. Notice how much closer the sun and moon are compared to the New Moon on March 1. At the next New Moon on April 29, the moon will pass directly in front of the sun, causing an annular solar eclipse, visible in Antarctica and Australia.
Saturday/Sunday, March 9/10, 1 a.m.
Jupiter and the Moon
Saturday night (or rather Sunday morning) at 2 a.m. we turn our clocks forward to Daylight Saving Time. About an hour before that happens, have a look at your western horizon. You’ll see an arch of first magnitude stars: Procyon, Pollux, Castor, and Capella, and suspended beneath them, the planet Jupiter and the slightly gibbous waxing moon.
Friday, March 14, before sunrise
Mercury at greatest elongation
For observers in the southern hemisphere, this is the best time to see Mercury in the morning sky. Look about half an hour before sunrise, and you will see Mercury half way between brilliant Venus and the horizon, framed by first magnitude stars Altair and Fomalhaut.
Tuesday, March 18–Tuesday, Apr. 1, after evening twilight
The faint glow of the zodiacal light, reflected from millions of tiny interplanetary particles, will be visible from northern latitudes in the western sky right after evening twilight ends. Fainter than the Milky Way, this is only visible in really dark skies. The Milky Way arches from southwest to northwest, while the zodiacal light rises straight up from the western horizon underneath Jupiter.
Tuesday, March 18, 10 p.m. local time
Mars, Spica, and the Moon
Look towards the eastern horizon around 10 p.m. and you’ll see the moon, two days past full, rising with the planet Mars to its left and Spica to its right.
Thursday, March 20, 2:07 a.m.
Asteroid Erigone occults Regulus
Asteroid 163 Erigone will pass in front of the first magnitude star Regulus, causing it to blink out of sight for a few seconds. This will be visible only on a narrow path starting over Long Island, New York, through Kingston, Ontario, Algonquin Provincial Park, and the western part of Hudson’s Bay. A map of the predicted path is shown here http://www.asteroidoccultation.com/observations/RegulusOcc/. Erigone itself will be 11th magnitude, not visible to the naked eye.
Thursday, March 20, 12:57 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.
Thursday, March 20, midnight
Saturn and the Moon
Saturn and the moon rise together just before midnight in the southeastern sky. Earlier in the day, the moon occulted Saturn as seen from northeastern South America, southern Africa, and Madagascar.
Saturday, March 22, 4 p.m. EDT
Venus at greatest elongation west
Venus will be at its farthest westward from the sun, which means that it will also be in perfect “half-moon” phase, lit exactly from its left side.
Sunday, March 23, 10:08 p.m.–10:32 p.m. EDT
Double shadow transit on Jupiter
The shadows of two of Jupiter’s moons, Io and Ganymede, will cross Jupiter’s face simultaneously, visible to observers all across North America.
Thursday, March 27, sunrise
The Moon close to Venus
The slender crescent moon will be just to the left of Venus, which will appear as a miniature crescent in small telescopes.
Mercury is well placed in the morning sky for observers in the southern hemisphere for most of March.
Venus is now a “morning star,” rising in the east just before the sun. It reaches greatest elongation west on March 22.
Mars is continues to brighten close to Spica in Virgo. It rises in the east in mid-evening and is visible the rest of the night.
Jupiter shines brightly in the south most of the night. The Great Red Spot is easier to see than in many recent years, showing a distinct orange color.
Saturn rises in the eastern sky around midnight in the constellation Libra.
Uranus is too close to the sun to be visible, being in conjunction with the Sun on April 2.
Neptune is too close to the sun to be visible.
- 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.