March Sky Chart; Northern Hemisphere gazer's guide

March 1: In the evening of Feb. 29 and the morning of March 1, the full moon will be very close to Mars and Jupiter (the brighter of the two). Until 3 a.m. the moon will approach them, then move away to the left (east). At conjunction, the moon covers Jupiter (an occultation) over the Southern Hemisphere. The bright object to the right of Jupiter is Regulus, in Leo, while to the left and more distant you can see Saturn, similar in brightness to Regulus but dimmer than Mars.

March 1: There will be a penumbral lunar eclipse today, ending just after moonrise along the east coast of North America. During a penumbral eclipse (when the earth obscures only a part of the sun from the moon's surface), the brightness of the full moon is somewhat decreased, but the effect is often not apparent.

March 2: Mars and Jupiter are in conjunction, Mars moving past Jupiter from left to right. The two planets have been near each other in Leo for some months. Last December, Mars moved eastward past Jupiter (from right to left), but then slowed and began its retrograde (westerly) motion, taking it toward Jupiter once more. In early April Mars will reverse itself once more and move past Jupiter once again from right to left in early May, the third time the two planets will be in conjunction within six months. Thereafter, it will move away swiftly to Jupiter's left (east).

March 2: The moon is near Saturn tonight. Jupiter, Mars and Regulus are to their right, all in Leo. The moon passes closest to Saturn at about 7 p.m., EST (so close that it occults -- covers -- Saturn from the Southern Hemisphere), and moves slowly away to the left during the night.

March 3: The moon is at apogee, farthest from earth.

March 6: Mercury is in inferior conjunction, passing between earth and sun from left to right. This takes the planet into the morning sky.

March 13: Saturn is at opposition from the sun. Since the planet will now be above the horizon at sunset it becomes an evening star, joining Mars and Jupiter in remaining visible from dusk till morning twilight.

March 16: Perigee moon (nearest earth) occurs only about two hours past New Moon. The normally stronger spring tide that accompanies the new moon will be enhanced substantially tonight and tomorrow morning by the effect of perigee.

March 17: According to the tables, 12 hours elapse from sunrise till sunset today. The effective equinox (equal nights) always occurs early in the spring (and early in the fall) because of the effect of refraction in the earth's atmosphere on the sun's position and because we measure rising and setting to the sun's upper edge, not its center.

March 18: Mercury is stationary and resumes its direct (easterly) motion through the stars.

March 20: This is the official date of the equinox, marking the end of winter and the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere at 6:10 a.m. EST. That's the moment when the sun's center is on the equatorial plane.

March 27-29: The moon has gone round the sky since early March, and it returns again to the part of the sky populated by the bright planets Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, and the star Regulus. Mars has moved some distance to the right (west) of Jupiter since it passed the brighter planet on the 2nd, so the moon reaches Mars first, at about 6 p.m. on the 27th, passing below it. At about 10 p.m. on the same night, the moon passes Regulus very closely, and then at 3 a.m. Jupiter, occulting both (from the Southern Hemisphere). On the night of the 28th, the moon is between Saturn (to its left) and Jupiter (to its right) , and on the 29th, at about 9 p.m., it passes Saturn (also occulting this one from the Southern Hemisphere). Altogether, these three nights will make for an exceptional pageant of celestial phenomena involving the nearly full moon, three bright planets (Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn), and the bright star Regulus.

March 30: The moon is at apogee, farthest from earth, for the second time this month.

March 31: The second full moon of the month occurs. Note the interesting differences in the intervals between the two full moons of March (29 days, 18 hours), the two conjunctions with Saturn (27 days 2 hours), and the two apogees (27 days 1 hour).They are important clues to the complexities of lunar motion.

Moon Phases Full Moon March 1 4:00 p.m. EST Last Quarter March 9 6:49 p.m. EST New Moon March 16 1:56 p.m. EST First Quarter March 23 7:31 a.m. EST Full Moon March 31 10:14 a.m. EST

Evening Stars: Mercury (until the 6th), Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn (after the 14th).

Morning Stars: Mercury (after the 6th), Saturn (until the 14th), Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto.

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