With the coldest and snowiest months of 2018 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 the last 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 shed by comets. Catch it early this month over the western horizon just after sunset and before the month's two full moon rise and crash the party.
Behold the Crow Moon (March 1-2)
The Crow Moon is also known to Native Americans as the Worm Moon and Crust Moon. (Photo: halfrain/flickr)
So-named by northern Native American tribes for the cawing of crows signaling the end of winter, March's first full moon is called the Crow Moon. 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 reach peak fullness at at 7:51 a.m. EST on March 1. Should you miss it, March offers another rare opportunity to catch a second full moon later in the month.
Daylight saving time (March 11)
Turn your clocks ahead, lose an hour of sleep, curse the world. (But on the bright side, pre-dawn skywatching suddenly becomes a more attractive endeavor.)
Catch a parade of planets (all month)
Venus gives way to the rise of a crescent moon at sunrise, as captured at the European Southern Observatory. (Photo: European Southern Observatory/flickr)
March is a fantastic month to view all five of our solar system's "bright planets," or those easily visible without an optical aide. These include Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.
Mercury and Venus are the easiest for most people to spot, rising just after sunset in the Northern Hemisphere. The remaining three are best viewed by night owls or early risers –– with Jupiter rising after midnight, followed by Mars and then Saturn closer to dawn. Your best bet for spotting this celestial parade will be on the evening of March 17, when the new moon gives way to exceptionally dark skies.
Vernal equinox (March 20)
The vernal equinox at Stonehenge in the U.K. 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 12:15 p.m. EST on March 20.
Occultation of Aldebaran (March 22)
Aldebaran, the brightest star in the constellation Taurus the Bull, will pass behind a waxing crescent moon near dawn on March 22. Known as an occultation, this celestial event will be visible in the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean.
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.
Take in the full blue moon or sap moon (March 31)
March's second full moon, nicknamed a Blue Moon, will rise on the last day of the month. (Photo: Kim Seng/Flickr)
The blue moon that will take place on March 31 is so-named only because it's the second full moon to occur during a calendar month (the other coming March 1). While blue moons aren't particularly rare (the last occurred in July 2015), the pairing of January and March both having such an occurrence won't happen again until 2037.
This moon, reaching peak fullness 8:37 a.m. on the morning of March 31, is also known as the Sap Moon. The nickname comes from Native Americans, who traditionally would begin drawing sap from maple trees during the month's race towards spring.
Editor's note: This story was originally published in February 2017 and has been updated with more recent information.