March has a few treats in store for skywatchers. There will be a total solar eclipse and a partial lunar eclipse, and Jupiter will shine extra brightly. It's a good month to look up, so here's how to catch these events.
March 8-9: Total solar eclipse
A solar eclipse occurs when the moon comes directly between the sun and the Earth. The moon’s umbra (shadow) is cast on Earth. Residents of Indonesia and parts of the Pacific will enjoy a total solar eclipse on March 9. People living in Malaysia, southeast Asia and northern Australia will see a partial solar eclipse. For places that are east of the International Date Line, such as Hawaii, the eclipse will occur on March 8. If you are lucky enough to be in the Pacific, be sure to protect your eyes when viewing the eclipse, and never look directly at the sun.
If you’d like to view the total solar eclipse from your computer, Exploratorium will be live streaming the event. The webcast out of Micronesia begins on March 8 at 8 p.m. EST. Exploratorium will also host a live telescope feed of the event, beginning at 7 p.m.
(And for those who live in North America, the next total solar eclipse will occur on Aug. 21, 2017. )
March 8: Jupiter at opposition
The eclipses aren’t the only skywatching events worth noting on your March calendar. Jupiter will shine extra brightly this month, and on March 8, it will be at opposition, making it easier to see. A planet is at opposition when the Earth comes between its orbit of the sun. The planet is closet to Earth (only 413 million miles away) during this time and appears farthest from the sun in the sky. According to EarthSky, “Jupiter comes to opposition about every 13 months. In other words, that’s how long Earth takes to travel once around the sun relative to Jupiter.”
Look for Jupiter rising in the east at dusk. At midnight it will be high in the sky. It will set in the west. While you can see Jupiter easily with the naked eye, binoculars and telescopes will allow stargazers to see the planet’s details along with its four moons.
March 23: Penumbral lunar eclipse
Two weeks after the solar eclipse, look out for a penumbral lunar eclipse. While a solar eclipse occurs when the moon is between the sun and Earth, a lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth in the middle of the syzygy (when three celestial objects line up). This month’s lunar event will be a penumbral lunar eclipse, which is the most subtle of the three lunar types. In this type of eclipse, the Earth’s fainter outer shadow covers the moon’s disc. It’s not as dramatic as the other types of eclipse as there is never a chunk taken out of the moon. Rather, the face of the moon will appear slightly darker.
The penumbral lunar eclipse will be visible in North America, most of South America, Australia, most of Asia, the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans. The eclipse will begin at 5:39 a.m. EST, with the maximum eclipse starting at 6:57 a.m. The eclipse will end at 9:54 a.m., according to TimeAndDate.com. For residents on the West Coast, the event will begin bright and early at 2:39 a.m. PST, with the maximum at 4:47 a.m. It will end at 6:54 a.m.