This month's full moon will share the night sky with Jupiter and Venus, two planets that continue to put on a show for skywatchers.
The full moon of March, called the Worm Moon, will occur in the eastern U.S. at 7:40 p.m. (1240 UTC) on March 7, according to the U.S. Naval Observatory. In New York City the moon rises at 6:09 p.m., about 16 minutes after sunset. The moon will be in the constellation Virgo, and hit its maximum elevation at 12:41 a.m. local time on March 8 (if one starts observing the evening of March 7) and will reach an altitude of about 54 degrees. (Your fist at arm's length corresponds to roughly 10 degrees in the sky.)
Full moons occur whenever the moon is on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun. Since we measure full moons when the moon is 180 degrees around the celestial sphere from where the sun is, the timing of the full moon depends on one's time zone. But the timing of the (full) moon reaching maximum elevation will change with one's latitude and longitude. The reason is twofold: first, the elevation of the moon above one's horizon will change with latitude. In general, the moon appears higher in the sky the closer one is to the equator (just as the sun does). Second, the moon moves along its orbit – and against the background stars – approximately one of its own diameters every hour or so. That changes its position along its orbit as seen projected on the sky.
The result is that observers in Portland, Oregon, which is the same approximate latitude as New York City, will see the full moon hit maximum elevation at 1:01 a.m. on March 8, when the moon crosses the meridian (the imaginary line running north to south across the sky). For these skywatchers, the moon will reach an altitude of 48 degrees, 6 degrees lower (about 12 lunar diameters) than it will appear in New York. This is because the full moon happens at 4:40 p.m. Pacific Time, and between then and the time it crosses the meridian, it's had time to move several degrees.
People in the Southern Hemisphere will see moonrise a bit later; it's still officially summer there and the days are longer (though they are getting shorter as the equinox approaches). From Santiago, Chile, the full moon happens March 7 at 9:40 a.m. local time, and rises at 8:34 p.m., while sunset is at 8:11 p.m. Australians (in Melbourne) will see the moon reach full phase during the night, at 11:40 p.m. local time on March 7. Sunset in Melbourne is at 7:52 p.m. and moonrise is at 8:01 p.m.
Full moons are easy targets for binoculars or small telescopes, but they can be almost disappointing because the moon is so bright the surface loses contrast. One issue is the lack of shadows; we are seeing the lunar surface at noontime on the moon, so the sun (from the perspective of a person standing on the moon) is directly overhead.
That said, moon filters are available that can make some features stand out. If one waits a few days after the full moon or observes a few days before, shadows bring out more detail. For those taking photos with their phones, one should be aware that the way the phone measures (and adjusts for) the light from the moon can be unpredictable, and depend a lot on the camera app one is using and the design of the camera itself. On an iPhone, for example, a full moon can be so bright relative to the background (a dark sky) that it appears a white blob in the image. Against a bluish, twilight sky, however, the image can show detail. There are apps that allow one to control the ISO (the "film speed" of the camera) and the exposure time, and one has to adjust those and be ready for some trial and error. (DSLRs allow for fine-tuning both of those parameters, so are easier to work with).
If you're interested in taking photographs of the Full Worm Moon, check out our helpful how to photograph the moon guide for the best lunar photography tips and tricks. We also have guides to the best cameras for astrophotography and best lenses for astrophotography if you need to gear up for this or other celestial events.
The night of March 7-8 offers some good planet-viewing opportunities, as early in the evening Venus, Jupiter, and Mars will all be above the horizon. From mid-northern latitudes (from about 30 to 50 degrees N) by about 7 p.m. Jupiter will be in the west with Venus above it; the latter will be visible first as it is brighter. At the southern end of the region (for example, in Atlanta, Georgia or Cairo, Egypt) the two planets will be higher in the sky as it gets dark. In Atlanta, for example, the sun sets at 6:38 p.m. on March 7 and Venus will be about 25 degrees high in the west, with Jupiter at about 20 degrees. Jupiter should be just visible at that point; a good exercise is to see how soon after Venus becomes visible you can spot it.
In Cairo, the sun sets at 5:57 p.m. (the earlier time is due to Cairo being on the eastern end of its time zone) and Venus will be 17 degrees high at 7 p.m. local time, with Jupiter at about 12 degrees. Meanwhile, observers in London (which sits at 51 degrees north) will see the sun set at 5:50 p.m. om March 7, Venus will be 15 degrees high at 7 p.m. and Jupiter at 10 degrees. Both planets will set between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., with Venus setting later.
Mars, meanwhile, will be high in the sky at sunset; at 7 p.m. in New York City it will be 71 degrees above the southwestern horizon, making a rough triangle with Aldebaran (the brightest star in Taurus) and Betelgeuse (the brightest star in Orion). All three are a red-orange color, with Mars at the top (north side) of the triangle. From New York the Red Planet sets at 1:18 a.m. local time on March 8.
From the Southern Hemisphere, Jupiter and Venus will actually be harder to see, owing to the slightly longer days and later sunset times. For example, Jupiter sets on March 7 at 9:23 p.m. in Santiago, Chile. But the sun sets only about an hour earlier, and by nautical twilight at 8:48 p.m. local time (when the sun is between 6 degrees and 12 degrees below the horizon), Jupiter is only 8 degrees above the horizon, and Venus only about 11 degrees high. In Melbourne, the situation is little better – nautical twilight occurs at about the same time as in Santiago (8:49 p.m. local time) and Venus is only 5 degrees high while Jupiter is only 3 degrees up.
Mars, however, will still be prominent in the mid-southern latitudes – from Melbourne by 8:45 p.m. it will be about 25 degrees high towards the northwest, forming the same rough triangle with Betelgeuse and Aldebaran, but this time with Mars at the bottom, Aldebaran to the left (as one faces north) and Betelgeuse above them both – Mars will be the northernmost of the three. Mars sets just after midnight at 12:21 a.m. on March 8.
The full moon shares the sky with a number of bright winter constellations. In early March, Orion is visible the first half of the night, starting the evening high in the south by about 8 p.m. local time in mid-northern latitudes. Near Orion are Taurus and Gemini, and just to the southeast (on the left side) of Orion is Canis Major, the Big Dog, home to Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. All three constellations are bright enough that they don't get overwhelmed by the full moon, even in urban areas. Orion can be recognized by the three bright stars of Orion's Belt. For northern Hemisphere sky watchers Betelgeuse forms his shoulder to the east (this would be Orion's right shoulder as he faces you, towards the left for people on the ground). His other shoulder is marked by Bellatrix, towards the west (the observer's right). Looking south (down) one can see Rigel below the Belt stars, on the right, marking Orion's foot, and to the left of it a star called Saiph, marking the other foot.
Canis Major is a box-shaped group of stars to the left of Orion, with Sirius at the upper right corner. Taurus the Bull faces Orion to the upper right, Aldebaran is approximately where his head would be, in a cluster of fainter stars called the Hyades. Looking once again to the left of Orion, are the stars of Gemini, the Twins, and you can find them by looking for a pair of bright stars, Castor and Pollux. By 8 p.m. Pollux will be the one lower in the sky (more to the south) and Castor is above it and slightly to the right.
Looking east one will see Leo above the moon, with its two brightest stars Denebola and Regulus. Denebola will be to the left of the moon and slightly above it, while Regulus is above it and to the right at some distance. You know you've spotted Regulus when you see the "sickle" – a backwards question-mark shaped grouping just above and to the left of Regulus.
If one looks north and finds the Big Dipper, which will be on the eastern side of the sky and facing upwards (so that the bowl appears to be on top with the handle pointing down towards the horizon) one can use the "pointers" in the bowl of the dipper to Polaris, the Pole Star, and keep turning left to the western side of Polaris, to the distinctive "W" shape of Cassiopeia, the legendary queen and wife of Cepheus. If one follows the pointers in the other direction, one reaches Leo the Lion.
For antipodeans, Orion is "upside down" with Rigel above Betelgeuse, as one faces north. At about 9 p.m. Gemini is now on the right side of the constellation and Castor and Pollux are similarly reversed, with Castor lower in the sky as it is to the north of Pollux. If one turns to the south and looks almost straight up, the bright star one sees there is Canopus, or Alpha Carinae, the brightest star in Carina, the Ship's Keel. Still facing south, if one looks to the southwest (this will be to the right) another bright star about halfway up the sky is visible, this is Achernar, which marks the end of Eridanus the River. If one follows the "river" of stars, it ends near Rigel, the foot of Orion.
The March full moon is called the Worm Moon in the Old Farmer's Almanac, and that supposedly refers to the emergence of earthworms. North American Native peoples had other names for it, often differing widely. According to the Ontario Native Literacy Project, the Ojibwe (or Anishinaabe) peoples called it Ziissbaakdoke Giizas, the Sugar Moon, as it was when maple tree sap was harvested; this lunation also happens to mark the Anishinaabe new year. Meanwhile, the Haida, whose traditional territory is the Haida Gwaii, a group of islands off the Pacific coast of Canada, called the March lunation Xitgáas Kungáay, or "Noisy Goose moon," according to the Tlingit Moon and Tide Teaching Resource published by the University of Alaska at Fairbanks.
In the southern hemisphere, March is the tail end of summer and the Māori of New Zealand described the lunar month in February to March (as measured between the successive new moons, with the full moon halfway between) as Paenga-whāwhā or "All straw is now stacked at the borders of the plantations," according to the Encyclopedia of New Zealand.
In China, the traditional lunar calendar calls the March lunation the second month, Xingyuè, the Apricot Month, for when the eponymous trees blossom.
For Muslims the full moon will mark the 15th day of Sha'ban, sometimes called Lailat al Bara'ah, or Shab-e-Barat, the Night of Forgiveness. For some Shia Muslims, especially in Iran, the day is also celebrated for being the birthday of the Twelfth Imam (despite the movement of the date relative to the Gregorian calendar). Jewish people, will celebrate Purim, the 14th day of the lunar month of Adar, on March 6-7, which commemorates Esther saving the Jewish people of the Persian Empire from being exterminated by the king Ahasuerus' vizier.