March Star Blog

March 3, 2020

Venus is even higher in the evening sky this month. Look in the west at dusk for the brightest thing there. Venus comes to greatest elongation on March 24, meaning that Venus is as far from the Sun as it can possible get in our sky. What’s more, at this time of year the ecliptic—the apparent path of the planets, Sun, and Moon—is almost at a right angle to the horizon at dusk. Thus, when Venus has an elongation this time of year, the full apparent distance from the Sun becomes height in the sky at dusk. That’s why Venus is so high at nightfall this month, setting over two hours after sunset.

Mars is higher in the morning sky each day this month. Look low in the southeast at dawn. As March begins, Mars is in a line with Jupiter and Saturn. Mars then passes Jupiter on March 20 and Saturn on the 31st.

Jupiter is slightly higher the morning sky each day this month. Look low in the southeast at dawn, especially towards the end of the month.

Saturn has emerged into the morning sky. Look to the lower left of Jupiter.

An artist’s impression of Betelgeuse.

Brilliant winter stars shift towards the southwest during March. Dazzling Orion is almost due south at dusk. His three-starred belt is halfway between reddish Betelgeuse and bluish Rigel. Orion’s belt points up to Aldebaran in Taurus the Bull. To Orion’s upper left are the twin stars Castor and Pollux, marking the heads of Gemini, the Twins. You can find Sirius, the brightest star we ever see at night, by drawing a line from Orion’s belt towards the horizon. To Orion’s left, about level with Betelgeuse, is Procyon, the Little Dog Star.

From Sirius, look a little bit to the right and then straight down to the horizon. If your southern horizon is clear of clouds and tall earthly obstacles, you’ll see Canopus, the second brightest star ever visible at night. This star is so far south that most Americans never see it and many star maps made in the USA omit it. (You must be south of 37 degrees north—the latitude of the USA’s Four Corners—for Canopus to rise). As you view Canopus, keep in mind that the sky we see depends on our latitude as well as on time of year and time of night.

Joining the winter stars are stars of spring rising in the east. Look for Leo, the Lion at dusk. Later in the evening, extend the Big Dipper’s handle to ‘Arc to Arcturus’ and then ‘speed on to Spica’; these stars rise at about 10:00 in early March but by 9pm on the 31st.

Moon Phases in March 2020:

1st Quarter March 2, 1:57 p.m.

Full March 9, 12:48 p.m.

Last Quarter March. 16, 4:34 a.m.

New March 24, 4:28 a.m.

Sunday, March 8, is the second Sunday of March. Accordingly, Daylight Saving Time begins at 2:00 am on this date. (The time jumps from 1:59 am to 3:00, skipping the 2:00 hour). Don’t forget to set your clocks forward one hour Saturday night, March 7!

At 10:50 pm on Thursday, March 19, the Sun appears directly overhead at the equator, shifting northwards. Thus, this is our spring equinox, a day when everyone in the world gets the same amount of daylight. This is also when daytime, which has been lengthening since the winter solstice, becomes longer than night. Below the equator, of course, the reverse is true. There daytime has been shortening since late December and becomes shorter than night at the equinox. Autumn, rather than spring, is underway.

Our George Observatory has been closed for renovation since August 2019. As we look forward to a full re-opening in May, we are offering ‘sneak peeks’ this Spring Break! Weather permitting, the public is invited to visit the Observatory. See dates and times here.

Clear Skies!

Authored By James Wooten

James is the Planetarium Astronomer at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. He teaches students every school morning in the planetarium, and also answers astronomy questions from the public.

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