Highlights: Venus still brilliant in early March. Jupiter and Saturn rising later in night.
Welcome to Skymania’s guide to the night sky in March, 2017. You will find a map of the whole visible sky, which can be adjusted for any time and date, plus information on the position of the planets, phases of the Moon, and notable astronomical events to watch out for. (To open the sky map in a separate window, click here.)
For the night sky in the southern hemisphere, click here.
The sky in March 2017
Summary: Venus shines brilliantly in the evening sky at the start of March but sinks rapidly towards the Sun. Jupiter now rises in the late evening, with Saturn rising later in the night.
Mercury is invisible in the first half of March when it is too close to the Sun in the sky. Following superior conjunction on March 7, it moves into the evening sky where it may be spotted to the lower right of Venus if you have a clear, unobstructed horizon.
Venus is still shining brilliantly at the start of March and is impossible to miss, at magnitude -4.8, but will sink back towards the Sun as the month goes on, and reaches inferior conjunction, when it is on the same side of the Sun as the Earth, on March 25.
Mars is still hanging on in the evening sky, shining like a bright star. The planet is receding on the far side of the Sun now and its brightness fades from magnitude 1.3 to 1.5 during the month.
Jupiter , the biggest planet in the Solar System, is very well placed, rising in the late evening. Find it in the constellation of Virgo, not far from its brightest star, Spica. The planet brightens slightly from -2.3 to -2.5, making it the brightest object in the sky after Venus. A small telescope will reveal the planet’s belts and bands as well as the four main moons, known as the Galilean satellites, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.
Saturn lies in the morning sky this month, rising before 3am at the start of February but two hours earlier by month’s end. To the naked eye, it resembles a bright yellow star at magnitude 0.5. A small telescope will show its rings are wide open, making it an attractive sight.
Uranus is visible in the early evening sky, but disappearing into twilight. It shines at magnitude 6.0 in the constellation of Pisces.
Though there are no truly bright comets in the sky at the moment, there are a few which may be picked up with binoculars given excellent sky conditions. In the first week of March, Comet 2P/Encke lies in the evening sky as soon as it gets dark.
Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova is fading rapidly after passing close to the Earth last month. Easier to spot will be the brightening Comet 48P/Johnson and Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak, which are away from the Sun and so visible against a dark sky, though affected by moonlight. See our new article, with chart, on how to find Comet 41P as it crosses the familiar pattern of the Big Dipper / Plough, which is part of the constellation of Ursa Major.
The Moon always makes a great target for a small telescope, which come into view as its phases change. We’ve a guide to where to find 50 of the best lunar features, plus a checklist to download so you can tick them off as you spot them! Don’t have a telescope? Here’s our guide to choosing one.
Phases of the Moon
Full Moon: Mar 12
Last Quarter: Mar 20
New Moon: Mar 28
Image courtesy U.S.N.O.
Fifty fantastic features – our amazing Moon
Here’s our guide to observing some of the finest sights on the Moon with small telescopes. Click here for pages of charts that will help you find interesting features to seek out yourself, including craters, lava flows, mountain ranges and deep chasms!