With the coldest and snowiest months of 2017 behind us, it's time to look ahead to March and the beginning of the Northern Hemisphere's transition back to warmer weather. What celestial events do the heavens have in store for us? Check out our list below for some March highlights. Wishing you clear (and increasingly warmer) evenings!
Zodiacal light (early March)
The zodiacal light is also known in astronomy circles as a 'false dawn.' (Photo: dylan_odonnell/flickr)
Sure, we mentioned this last month, but the first two weeks of March offer yet another chance to see the zodiacal light until the fall. Visible only to those with relatively dark skies, this celestial phenomenon looks like light pollution but is actually sunlight glinting off solar dust. Catch it early this month over the western horizon just after sunset and before the coming full moon crashes the party.
Occultation of Aldebaran (March 4)
Aldebaran, the brightest star in the constellation Taurus the Bull, will pass behind a waxing crescent moon on March 4. Known as an occultation, this celestial event will be visible in the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean. As for timing, East Coast skywatchers should expect a late showing: Aldebaran will begin its lunar occultation at about 11:10 p.m. EST and then reappear on the other side of the moon at 11:31 p.m. EST.
Should clouds ruin this month's show, don't fret; Aldebaran and the moon are expected to continue this dance every month for the rest of the year.
Fun fact: The planetary exploration probe Pioneer 10, which launched in 1972, is currently headed toward the Aldebaran system and will make its closest approach in some 2 million years.
Full Crow Moon (March 12)
The Crow Moon is also known to Native Americans as the Worm Moon and Crust Moon. (Photo: halfrain/flickr)
The Snow Moon of February gives way to March's Crow Moon, so-named by northern Native American tribes for the cawing of crows signaling the end of winter. Names given by other tribes include the Worm Moon, for the return of robins to feast on emerging worms, and the Crust Moon, for the top layers of snow melting and freezing in rhythm to the month's fickle temperatures.
The moon will appear 100-percent full from March 11 to March 13, with peak coming on March 12 at 10:54 a.m. EST.
SpaceX launch of EchoStar 23 satellite (March 12)
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at Launch Complex 39A. (Photo: NASA's Marshall Space Flight/flickr)
SpaceX seeks to continue its recent spate of successful launches on March 12. Sometime between 12:34 a.m. EST and 4:04 a.m. EDT, a Falcon 9 will lift off from the Kennedy Space Center to deliver the EchoStar Communications Satellite into space.
The launch for the EchoStar was originally scheduled for last month but was bumped to March. As mentioned previously, the launch is notable because it will mark the first time the company has re-flown one of its recovered boosters. SpaceX has also penciled in another launch in March for the delivery of a second communications satellite. As of right now, according to Space Flight Now, the second launch date has yet to be determined.
Daylight saving time (March 12)
Turn your clocks ahead, lose an hour of sleep, curse the world. (But on the bright side, pre-dawn skywatching suddenly becomes more attractive.)
The brilliance of Mercury and Venus
Venus gives way to the rise of a crescent moon at sunrise, as captured at the European Southern Observatory. (Photo: European Southern Observatory/flickr)
The dazzling beauty of Venus, seen at minus 4.8 magnitude, will be shining in all its glory just after sunset in early March. Towards mid-month, it will disappear from the evening sky, only to reappear later around March 20 as the brightest object to rise before the morning sun.
In the wake of Venus' bow as an evening spectacle, the planet Mercury will take its place, brightening to minus 1.8 magnitude and hovering near the western horizon just under Mars.
Vernal equinox (March 20)
The vernal equinox at Stonehenge in the United Kingdom often attracts in excess of visitors to watch the sun rise in the due east. (Photo: Stonehenge Stone Circle/flickr)
The vernal or spring equinox marks the moment when the two hemispheres of our planet each receive an equal amount of day and night. In the Northern Hemisphere, the event is something of a celebration as we all look forward to warmer months, longer days and the return of green foliage.
The other neat thing about the equinox is that it offers people a chance to pinpoint the true east and west of their location. This is because the sun is moving along the celestial equator, which intersects our horizons at points due east and due west. According to EarthSky, waking up for sunrise or catching sunset in relation to landmarks on the horizon can come in handy.
"If you do this, you’ll be able to use those landmarks to find those cardinal directions in the weeks and months ahead, long after Earth has moved on in its orbit around the sun, carrying the sunrise and sunset points northward," they write.
Spring will officially kick off at 6:29 a.m. EST.
Launch of ISS crew (March 27)
The launch of the Soyuz MS-02 rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome launch pad in Kazakhstan on Oct. 19, 2016. (Photo: NASA Johnson/flickr)
The first of four ISS crew lift-offs in 2017 will take place on March 27 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome launch pad in Kazakhstan. On board the Russian Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft will be NASA flight engineer Jack Fischer and Russian commander Fyodor Yurchikhin. Interestingly, both this launch and another in April to the ISS will feature an empty seat; a result of the Russian space program temporarily scaling back the number of crew members it's sending to the station.