With the coldest and snowiest months of 2020 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 [public domain]/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. A 2010 study found that upwards of 90% of the dust originates from Jupiter family comets. Catch it early this month over the western horizon just after sunset — and before the month's full moon rises to the party.
Daylight saving time (March 8)
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.) You'll get plenty of reminders, but here's one more: On the night of Saturday, March 7, set your clock ahead by one hour so you are already on schedule when you wake up on March 8.
Behold the super Crow Moon (March 9)
The Crow Moon is also known to Native Americans as the Worm Moon and the Crust Moon. (Photo: halfrain [CC BY-SA 2.0]/Flickr)
So-named by northern Native American tribes for the cawing of crows signaling the end of winter, March's full moon is aptly 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.
As mentioned in our 2020 roundup, March's full moon is the second of four supermoons for 2020 –– with the others occurring on Feb. 9, April 8 and May 7. A supermoon occurs when the moon is both full and at its closest approach to Earth (perigee) for a given monthly orbit. On average, supermoons appear roughly 16% larger than a standard full moon.
The Crow Moon will reach peak fullness at at 1:48 p.m. EST on March 9.
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 [CC by 2.0]/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.
Venus, one of the brightest objects in our night sky, is the easiest to spot just after sunset. The remaining four are best viewed by night owls or early risers –– with Jupiter rising after midnight, followed by Mars and then Saturn and Mercury closer to dawn. Your best bet for spotting this celestial parade will be around March 24th, when the new moon gives way to exceptionally dark skies.
A high-altitude test for Starship (Mid-March)
SpaceX's Starship rocket, intended as a future long-duration cargo and passenger-carrying spacecraft, may take its first high-altitude test flight as early as mid-March. In paperwork filed with the FCC, SpaceX is seeking permission to fly the rocket from its Boca Chica, Texas, spaceport to an altitude of roughly 12.4 miles (about halfway to the edge of space) and then land it back down on Earth nearby. A successful test would be a big step toward SpaceX's goal of using hundreds of Starships to one day ferry people and supplies to Mars.
"Very dependent on volume, but I'm confident moving to Mars (return ticket is free) will one day cost less than $500k & maybe even below $100k," Musk tweeted. "Low enough that most people in advanced economies could sell their home on Earth & move to Mars if they want."
Should the March test window come and pass, SpaceX will reportedly have until September 2020 to conduct the test.
Vernal equinox (March 19)
The vernal equinox at Stonehenge often attracts in excess of visitors who want to see the sun rise in the due east. (Photo: Stonehenge Stone Circle [CC BY 2.0]/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 11:50 p.m. EST on March 19.
Dark skies courtesy of the new moon (March 24)
March's new moon will create the perfect conditions (weather permitting) for viewing the heavens. (Photo: Eddie Yip [CC BY-SA 2.0]/Flickr)
A new moon is when the moon is located on the same side of the Earth as the sun, and March 24th will offer optimal conditions to head outside into the darkness and revel in the waning celestial displays of winter. It's also the perfect time for hobbyist and professional astronomers alike to set up telescopes and check out galaxies, planets, asteroids or other distant objects.
Editor's note: This story was originally published in February 2018 and has been updated with more recent information.