Night Sky, March 2019: What You Can See This Month [Maps]

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).

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

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, you can send images and comments in to spacephotos@futurenet.com.

Yearly Night Sky Guides:

When, Where and How to See the Planets in the 2019 Night Sky

The Top Skywatching Events to Look for in 2019

Best Night Sky Events of March's 2019 (Stargazing Maps) 

Calendar of Observing Highlights

Friday, March 1 pre-dawn — Old Moon meets Saturn

(Image: © Starry Night software)

In the southeastern sky before dawn on Saturday, February 2, the waning crescent moon will appear less than 3 degrees to the lower left of Saturn. Hours earlier, centered on 19:50 GMT, skywatchers in northern and northeastern Africa, southern and central Europe, Middle East, western Asia, and parts of Southern Russia can see the moon's orbital motion (green line) carry it across the ringed planet.

Saturday, March 2 pre-dawn — Crescent Moon near Venus

In the southeastern sky between 5 a.m. local time and dawn on Saturday, March 2, the slim crescent moon will be positioned 4.5 finger widths to the right of bright Venus. The pair will make a lovely photo opportunity when composed with a foreground landscape.

Tuesday, March 5 overnight — Asteroid Pallas Stands Still

(Image: © Starry Night software)

On Tuesday, March 5, the main belt asteroid designated (2) Pallas will cease its eastward motion through the distant stars (red path) and commence a westward retrograde loop that will last until early June. Pallas' visual magnitude of 8.1 will allow it to be seen in binoculars and amateur telescopes after it rises in late evening. The asteroid's position on March 5 will be among the stars of Virgo, approximately 12 degrees to the lower right (south) of the bright star Arcturus.

Wednesday, March 6 at 11:04 p.m. EST — New Moon

(Image: © Starry Night software)

At its new phase, the moon is traveling between the Earth and the Sun. Since sunlight is only reaching the side of the moon turned away from us, and the moon is in the same region of the sky as the sun, the moon is hidden from view for Earth-bound observers. A day or two after new moon, look for the slender sliver of the young crescent moon just above the western horizon after sunset.

Thursday, March 7 after sunset — Young Crescent Moon and Mercury

(Image: © Starry Night software)

After sunset on Thursday, March 7, look low in the western sky for the very young crescent moon. Sharp eyes might catch Mercury sitting eight finger widths to the right of the moon. The best time to search for Mercury comes around 7 p.m. local time. 

Monday, March 11 evening — Waxing Moon meets Mars

(Image: © Starry Night software)

In the western evening sky on Monday, March 11, the waxing crescent moon will be positioned a generous palm's width (7 degrees) to the left of Mars. The pair will set at about midnight local time. 

Tuesday, March 12 overnight — Moon Approaches Aldebaran

(Image: © Starry Night software)

Starting in late evening on Tuesday, March 12, the moon's orbital motion (green line) will carry it towards the stars forming Taurus' triangular face, and that constellation's brightest star, Aldebaran. In the Eastern Time zone, the moon will set in the west-northwest before it fully enters the triangle, but observers farther west will see the moon move within a few degrees of Aldebaran before moonset. 

Thursday, March 14 at 6:27 a.m. EDT — First Quarter Moon

(Image: © Starry Night software)

At first quarter, the relative positions of the Earth, sun, and moon cause us to see the moon half illuminated — on the western (right-hand) side. First quarter moons rise around noon and set around midnight, so they are visible starting in the afternoon hours. The term quarter moon refers not to its appearance, but the fact that our natural satellite has now completed the first quarter of its orbit around Earth since the last new moon. 

Saturday, March 16 evening — See Asteroid Juno

(Image: © Starry Night software)

On the evening of Saturday, March 16, the main belt asteroid designated (3) Juno will pass very close to a naked-eye star in Orion, allowing skywatchers to easily find the magnitude 9.5 asteroid in binoculars and backyard telescopes. The magnitude 4.6 star, named Pi1 (π1) Orionis, marks part of the lion's pelt that extends from Orion's western (right-hand) arm. This star is visible with unaided eyes and binoculars under dark sky conditions. Once the star is centered in your telescope, look for Juno sitting only 9 arc-minutes (less than one-third of the moon's diameter) to the right of the star. Your telescope will probably flip and/or mirror the view shown in the inset. 

Sunday, March 17 predawn — Moon moves toward the Beehive

(Image: © Starry Night software)

In the west-northwestern pre-dawn sky of Sunday, March 17, the waxing gibbous moon will be positioned several finger widths to the lower right of the large open star cluster known as the Beehive or Messier 44 in the constellation of Cancer, the crab. The moon encounters the cluster frequently because the Beehive's position is only a finger's width north of the ecliptic (green line), the great circle around the sky that most solar system objects orbits close to. To see the cluster's stars, try placing the bright moon just outside the field of view of your binoculars. 

Monday, March 18 from 5:32 to 6:04 GMT — Double shadow transit on Jupiter

(Image: © Starry Night software)

From time to time, the small round black shadows cast by Jupiter's four Galilean moons become visible in amateur telescopes as they cross (or transit) the planet's disk. On Monday, March 18, observers located from the eastern coasts of the Americas to western Europe and western Africa can see two of those shadows on Jupiter at the same time. At 5:32 GMT, Europa's shadow will join Ganymede's shadow already in transit. The two shadows will cross Jupiter together for 32 minutes until Ganymede's shadow moves off the planet at 6:04 GMT. Europa's shadow will continue to transit Jupiter for almost two more hours. 

Wednesday, March 20 at 5:58 p.m. EDT — Vernal Equinox

(Image: © Starry Night software)

On Wednesday, March 20 at 21:58 GMT the sun will cross the celestial equator traveling north, marking the vernal equinox in the northern hemisphere and the beginning of northern spring. Days and nights are of equal length. The sun rises due east and sets due west. 

Thursday, March 21 at 9:43 p.m. EDT — Full Worm Moon

(Image: © Starry Night software)

Although technically it occurs a few hours past the equinox, this is the final full moon of winter. 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. Full moons always rise in the east as the sun sets, and set in the west at sunrise. When fully illuminated, the moon's geology is enhanced, especially the contrast between the ancient cratered highlands and the younger smoother maria. This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first footsteps by humans on the moon. 

Thursday, March 21 to Friday, April 5, after evening twilight — Zodiacal light

(Image: © Starry Night software)

For about half an hour after dusk during the two week period preceding the new moon on April 5, look west-southwest for a broad wedge of faint light rising from the horizon and centered on the ecliptic (green line). This is the zodiacal light — reflected sunlight from interplanetary particles concentrated in the plane of the solar system. Try to observe from a location without light pollution, and don't confuse the zodiacal light with the brighter Milky Way to the northwest. 

Monday, March 25 from 4:06 to 6:07 a.m. EDT — Double shadow transit on Jupiter

(Image: © Starry Night software)

From time to time, the small round black shadows cast by Jupiter's four Galilean moons become visible in amateur telescopes as they cross (or transit) the planet's disk. On Monday, March 25, observers in North America can see two of those shadows on Jupiter at the same time. At 4:06 a.m. EDT, Europa's shadow will join Ganymede's shadow already in transit. The duo will cross Jupiter together for almost two hours until Ganymede's shadow moves off the planet at 6:07 a.m. EDT. Europa's shadow will continue to transit for another 30 minutes. 

Wednesday, March 27 pre-dawn — Waning Moon near Jupiter

(Image: © Starry Night software)

In the southeastern pre-dawn sky on Wednesday, March 27, the waning gibbous moon will be positioned less than four finger widths to the left of Jupiter. The duo will fit within the field of view of binoculars (red circle). They'll rise after 2:15 a.m. local time and remain observable until mid-morning, allowing Jupiter to be found in daylight using the moon as a reference. 

Thursday, March 28 at 12:10 a.m. EDT — Last Quarter Moon

(Image: © Starry Night software)

At its last quarter phase, the moon rises around midnight and remains visible in the southern sky during morning daylight. At this time, the moon is illuminated on the eastern side, towards the pre-dawn Sunday Last quarter moons are positioned ahead of the Earth in our trip around the Sun. About 3.5 hours later, earth will occupy that same location in space. After this phase, the waning moon traverses the last quarter of its orbit around the earth, on the way to new moon. 

Friday, March 29 pre-dawn — Crescent Moon meets Saturn Again

(Image: © Starry Night software)

For the second time this month, the moon will pass close to Saturn. In the southeastern pre-dawn sky on Friday, March 29, the waning crescent moon will be positioned two finger widths to the lower left of the ringed planet. Both objects will fit into the field of view of binoculars (red circle). Hours earlier, observers in the eastern edge of Brazil, southern Africa, Madagascar, the southern tip of India, and Sri Lanka can see the moon occult Saturn. 

Saturday, March 30 evening — Mars Passes the Seven Sisters

(Image: © Starry Night software)

Planets

(Image: © Starry Night software)

Mercury will be visible in the western evening sky twilight for the first third of March while it descends sunward, completing its best appearance for 2019 for the Northern Hemisphere. The best viewing time will be around 7 p.m. local time. During this period the planet's apparent disk size will increase and its illuminated phase will decrease to a slim crescent. On March 7, look for the very young crescent moon sitting eight degrees to the left of Mercury. Following inferior conjunction on March 15, Mercury will enter the eastern pre-dawn sky — exhibiting a waxing crescent and becoming readily visible only towards month-end due to the very shallow morning ecliptic.

(Image: © Starry Night software)

Venus will spend March low in the eastern pre-dawn sky, slowly swinging eastward towards the sun. Over the course of the month, Venus' disk will shrink slightly in apparent diameter while its illuminated phase will grow from 72 percent to 81 percent. Between 5 a.m. local time and dawn on March 2, the slim crescent moon will be positioned 4.5 degrees to the right of Venus, making a lovely photo opportunity when composed with a foreground landscape.

(Image: © Starry Night software)

Mars will spend March in the western evening sky. It will be among the stars of Aries until March 23, when it will cross into Taurus. Mars' steady eastward motion has been counteracting the westward migration of the background stars. But by the end of the month, the arrival of later sunsets will require skywatchers to observe Mars while it is lower in the sky. During March, Mars will shrink slightly in apparent disk diameter and its brightness will decrease from magnitude 1.19 to 1.45. On March 11, the waxing crescent moon will be positioned a generous palm's width (7 degrees) to the left of Mars. On March 30, Mars will pass within three finger widths of the bright open star cluster known as the Pleiades (Messier 45), a sight best seen before 10 p.m. local time.

(Image: © Starry Night software)

During March, very bright Jupiter (average magnitude -2.15) will rise in the hours after midnight and then move into the southern sky by dawn. Throughout the month, the planet will grow slightly brighter and larger in telescopes as Earth slowly draws closer to it in preparation for opposition in June. Jupiter will remain in southeastern Ophiuchus all month while slowly moving eastward. Several double shadow transit events will occur on Jupiter in March, including a very good one on March 25. On March 27, the waning gibbous moon will be positioned less than four degrees to the left of Jupiter. The duo will rise after 2:15 a.m. local time and remain observable until mid-morning, allowing Jupiter to be found in daylight using the moon as a reference.

(Image: © Starry Night software)

 Saturn will be observable in the southeastern pre-dawn sky during March, appearing as a yellowish, visual magnitude 0.6 object located to the left of the Teapot asterism of Sagittarius. Over the course of the month Saturn will rise earlier while it climbs away from the Sun. On March 1, the waning crescent moon will land three degrees to the upper right of yellowish Saturn. Later that same day, observers in most of Micronesia, northern Polynesia (except Hawaii), Central America, and Southern North America can see the moon occult Saturn in daylight. The moon will revisit Saturn on March 29, when the waning crescent moon will be positioned two degrees to the lower left of the ringed planet. Hours earlier, observers in the eastern edge of Brazil, southern Africa, Madagascar, the southern tip of India, and Sri Lanka can see the moon occult Saturn.

(Image: © Starry Night software)

During March, blue-green Uranus will be carried lower by the western evening sky while moving slowly eastward among the stars of western Aries. At visual magnitude 7.2, Uranus is bright enough to observe in binoculars under dark sky conditions. Look for the planet sitting about 3 degrees above the medium-bright star Omicron Piscium. Uranus will remain observable only until about mid-month, after which it will become harder to see due to its lower position in the sky and the encroaching evening twilight.

(Image: © Starry Night software)

During March, dim, blue-tinted Neptune will be too close to the sun to be observed. Solar conjunction will occur on March 6, but the shallow morning ecliptic will delay Neptune's return to visibility in the pre-dawn sky for quite some time.

Skywatching Terms

Gibbous: Used to describe a planet or moon that is more than 50 percent illuminated.

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.

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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