The Sun begins the month in the constellation of Aquarius but crosses the border into Pisces on the 12th at around 22h. It is climbing steeply now and daylight increases rapidly. On March 20th at 16h16, the Vernal Equinox occurs, when the Sun is directly overhead at the Earth’s equator. The Sun-Earth distance at the time is 148,989,865 km. The astronomical season of Spring begins in the northern hemisphere, and lasts for 92.74 days. If the Earth had no atmosphere, day and night at this time would be exactly equal all over the planet except at the poles, but due to atmospheric refraction, this scenario occurs some days earlier.
March is the best month to observe the mysterious Zodiacal Light during evenings when the moon is not present in the sky and you are well away from light pollution. Look towards the west when twilight has faded and you should see a faint cone of light pointing southwards at a steep angle of 60°. This year, the best time to observe the zodiacal light is during the first half of the month. This phenomenon is caused by the Sun illuminating the disc of fine dust, which is the remnant of solar system formation 4.5 thousand million years ago.
The Moon is at perigee, its nearest to the Earth, at 09h00 on the 11th, and again on the 30th at 12h
It is at apogee, its furthest from the Earth, at 17h00 the 26th.
Full Moon is on the 2nd around 01h00 in Leo. It culminates in the south on the
A second Full Moon (also referred to as a ‘Blue Moon’), occurs on the 31st at 12.38 on the Leo/Virgo border. This is the Paschal Full Moon, being the first Full Moon after the Vernal Equinox, adopted by the Western Christian Church, and agreed upon by the Synod of Whitby in 664 AD, to calculate the date of Easter.
Last Quarter Moon, is on March 9th at 11h21 in the constellation of Ophiuchus, and is the the lowest Last Quarter Moon of the year.
New Moon is on the 17th at 13h12, on the Aquarius/Pisces border, where it passes 4° south of the Sun.
First Quarter takes place at 15h36 on March 24th on the Orion/Gemini border, and is the highest First Quarter Moon of the year.
Earthshine, (the faint glow on the night hemisphere of the Moon caused by reflected sunlight from the Earth), may be seen during the evenings on the dark hemisphere of the waxing crescent from the 18th to the 23rd and on the 10th to the 16th on the waning crescent.
Mercury is at its greatest elongation, 18° east of the Sun on the 15th. This is the innermost planet’s best evening apparition this year, and its proximity to Venus will help you to locate the elusive planet. The two are in conjunction on the 4th, when Mercury lies 1° (two moon widths) north of Venus, and again on the 19th, when the two are separated by a greater distance of some 4°. Again, Mercury lies to the north of Venus. At the time of greatest elongation Mercury sets two hours after the Sun, and the best time to see it is to scan the western horizon an hour after sunset. Of the two planets in that direction, Mercury has the higher altitude, but Venus is very much the brighter of the two. The hairline waxing crescent Moon may be seen near this planetary duo on the 18th and 19th.
As March begins, Venus sets just over an hour after the Sun, but by the end of the month sets two hours after the latter. It is reappearing as the splendid ‘Evening Star’, or Hesperus that the ancients knew. As mentioned in the previous paragtraph, the two inner planets, Mercury and Venus, keep each other company in the early evening sky, in the month when Spring begins
Mars rises before 03h00 throughout March, and is becoming steadily brighter as Earth begins to ‘catch it up’ in their eternal dance around the Sun. The planet, distinguishable by its ochre coloured glow, has reached magnitude + 0.58 by mid-month, which is of comparable brightness to Betelgeuse (alpha Orionis). It lies in Sagittarius and may be seen 8° above the SE horizon around 04h00. In the same constellation, 9° to the left of Mars, is Saturn, which at magnitude +1.19 is slightly fainter than Mars. During the morning of the 10th, the Moon, just one day after last quarter, lies almost 4° above Mars.
Around 04h00 during March, Jupiter, which lies amongst the stars of Libra, may be seen culminating in the south at an altitude of around 20°. The gibbous waning Moon on the 7th, may be seen some 4° above
Jupiter in the early morning sky. Jupiter rises at around midnight during March and is the brightest celestial object in the night sky, eith the exception of the Moon, if present.
Remember to look for the four Galilean satellites through firmly fixed binoculars as they change position from night to night.
During March, Saturn, low in the constellation of Sagittarius, rises between three to four hours before the Sun. As the month progresses, brighter Mars may be seen approaching Saturn to a conjunction between the two on the 2nd April, so at the end of March look good together low in the SE with an altitude of 5° at 03h00. Saturn lies 2° south of the broad waning crescent Moon on the morning of the 11th. The northern surface of Saturn’s rings are still tilted favourably towards the Earth during the rest of 2018.
At the start of March, Uranus (still in Pisces) sets at 22h00, some four hours after the Sun, and during March the period of availability of this planet for observation, decreases rapidly. There is an interesting opportunity during the evening of the 29th, when Venus passes south of Uranus in the twilight; look in the western sky at 19h30 and locate Venus, 8° above the horizon. It is best to use a small telescope for this observation. At this time Uranus at magnitude +5.91, is just less than 1° (a little more than a Moon width) to the lower right of -3.75 magnitude Venus. There is a chart showing the movement of Uranus on the Remote Planets page.
Neptune, in Aquarius, is in conjunction with the Sun on the 4th, and will not be available for observation this month.
Constellations visible in the south around midnight, mid-month, are as follows: Leo, the western part of Virgo, Crater, and Hydra. The Plough (Big Dipper), which is part of the constellation of Ursa Major, the Great Bear, is at the zenith, directly overhead.
Clocks go forward an hour in the morning of Sunday March 25th.
All times are GMT 1° is one finger width at arm’s length.
The phenomena of the month : March 2018
Times are given in UT for SCARBOROUGH (0° 25' 5" W, 54° 16' 30" N, zone 0 UT).
Date Hour Description of the phenomenon
yyyy mm dd hh:mm
2018 03 01 06:05 Beginning of occultation of 32-alpha Leo, Régulus, (magn. = 1.36)
2018 03 01 06:31 Close encounter between the Moon and Regulus (topocentric dist. centre to centre = 0.0°)
2018 03 01 13:45 Maximum of the variable star delta Cephei
2018 03 02 00:51 FULL MOON
2018 03 02 19:02 Minimum of the variable star Algol (beta Persei)
2018 03 04 00:44 Maximum of the variable star eta Aquilae
2018 03 04 13:55 CONJUNCTION between Neptune and the Sun (geoc. dist. centre to centre = 0.9°)
2018 03 04 17:46 Close encounter between Mercury and Venus (topocentric dist. centre to centre = 1.1°)
2018 03 05 15:51 Minimum of the variable star Algol (beta Persei)
2018 03 06 22:32 Maximum of the variable star delta Cephei
2018 03 08 12:40 Minimum of the variable star Algol (beta Persei)
2018 03 09 11:20 LAST QUARTER OF THE MOON
2018 03 10 11:00 Mercury at its perihelion (distance to the Sun = 0.30750 AU)
2018 03 10 16:40 Maximum of the variable star zeta Gemini
2018 03 11 04:59 Maximum of the variable star eta Aquilae
2018 03 11 09:13 Moon at apogee (geocentric dist. = 404678 km)
2018 03 11 09:30 Minimum of the variable star Algol (beta Persei)
2018 03 12 07:20 Maximum of the variable star delta Cephei
2018 03 13 15:34 Minimum of the variable star beta Lyrae
2018 03 14 06:19 Minimum of the variable star Algol (beta Persei)
2018 03 15 12:00 GREATEST EASTERN ELONGATION of Mercury (18.3°)
2018 03 17 03:08 Minimum of the variable star Algol (beta Persei)
2018 03 17 13:12 NEW MOON
2018 03 17 16:08 Maximum of the variable star delta Cephei
2018 03 18 09:12 Maximum of the variable star eta Aquilae
2018 03 19 19:32 Close encounter between Mars and M 8 (topocentric dist. centre to centre = 0.8°)
2018 03 19 20:24 Close encounter between the Moon and Uranus (topocentric dist. centre to centre = 4.9°)
2018 03 19 23:46 Close encounter between Mercury and Venus (topocentric dist. centre to centre = 3.8°)
2018 03 19 23:57 Minimum of the variable star Algol (beta Persei)
2018 03 20 16:15 SPRING EQUINOX
2018 03 20 20:17 Maximum of the variable star zeta Gemini
2018 03 21 09:27 Opposition of the asteroid 18 Melpomene with the Sun (dist. to the Sun = 2.761 AU; magn. = 10.2)
2018 03 22 05:46 Close encounter between Saturn and M 22 (topocentric dist. centre to centre = 1.6°)
2018 03 22 20:13 Beginning of occultation of 75 Tau (magn. = 4.96)
2018 03 22 20:47 Minimum of the variable star Algol (beta Persei)
2018 03 22 21:13 End of occultation of 75 Tau (magn. = 4.96)
2018 03 22 23:33 Beginning of occultation of 87-alpha Tau, Aldébaran, (magn. = 0.87)
2018 03 22 23:55 Close encounter between the Moon and Aldebaran (topocentric dist. centre to centre = 0.2°)
2018 03 23 00:15 End of occultation of 87-alpha Tau, Aldébaran, (magn. = 0.87)
2018 03 23 00:55 Maximum of the variable star delta Cephei
2018 03 23 22:37 Beginning of occultation of 119 Tau (magn. = 4.32)
2018 03 23 23:33 End of occultation of 119 Tau (magn. = 4.32)
2018 03 24 15:35 FIRST QUARTER OF THE MOON
2018 03 25 13:26 Maximum of the variable star eta Aquilae
2018 03 25 17:36 Minimum of the variable star Algol (beta Persei)
2018 03 26 14:08 Minimum of the variable star beta Lyrae
2018 03 26 17:17 Moon at perigee (geocentric dist. = 369106 km)
2018 03 27 00:52 Close encounter between the Moon and M 44 (topocentric dist. centre to centre = 2.9°)
2018 03 28 09:43 Maximum of the variable star delta Cephei
2018 03 28 14:25 Minimum of the variable star Algol (beta Persei)
2018 03 29 00:50 Close encounter between Venus and Uranus (topocentric dist. centre to centre = 0.1°)
2018 03 30 23:54 Maximum of the variable star zeta Gemini
2018 03 31 11:14 Minimum of the variable star Algol (beta Persei)
2018 03 31 12:37 FULL MOON
2018 04 01 00:00 EASTER DAY
Generated using COELIX software