The night sky tonight and on any clear night offers an ever-changing display of fascinating objects you can see, from stars and constellations to bright planets, often the moon, and sometimes special events like meteor showers. Observing the night sky can be done with no special equipment, although a sky map can be very useful, and a good beginner telescope or binoculars will enhance some experiences and bring some otherwise invisible objects into view. You can also use astronomy accessories to make your observing easier, and use our Satellite Tracker page powered by N2YO.com to find out when to see the International Space Station and other satellites. Below, find out what’s up in the night sky tonight (Planets Visible Now, Moon Phases, Observing Highlights This Month) plus other resources (Skywatching Terms, Night Sky Observing Tips and Further Reading).
Monthly skywatching information is provided to Space.com by Chris Vaughan of Starry Night Education, the leader in space science curriculum solutions. Follow Starry Night on Twitter @StarryNightEdu.
Editor’s note: If you have an amazing skywatching photo you’d like to share for a possible story or image gallery, please contact managing editor Tariq Malik at [email protected].
Yearly Night Sky Guides:
Calendar of Observing Highlights
Thursday, March 1 evening – Full Moon passes Regulus
When the full moon rises late on the afternoon of March 1, it will sit about 2 degrees above the bright star Regulus in Leo. Through the evening, the moon’s eastward orbital motion (green line) will carry it past the star, with closest approach around shortly after 1 a.m. EST. Observers in the northeastern tip of Russia, northern North America, Greenland, Svalbard, the western edge of Europe, and the Azores will see the moon occult Regulus.
Thursday, March 1 at 7:51 p.m. EST – Full Worm Moon
This is the final full moon of winter. The March full moon, known as the Worm Moon, Crow Moon, Sap Moon or Lenten Moon, always shines in or near the stars of Leo. Full moons always rise in the east as the sun sets, and set in the west at sunrise.
Monday, March 5 to Saturday, March 17, after evening twilight – Zodiacal light
For about half an hour after dusk during the two week period preceding the new moon on March 17, look west-southwest for a broad wedge of faint light rising from the horizon and centered on the ecliptic (green line). This is the zodiacal light – reflected sunlight from interplanetary particles of matter concentrated in the plane of the solar system. Try to observe from a location without light pollution, and don’t confuse the zodiacal light with the brighter Milky Way to the northwest.
Monday, March 5 at 7 p.m. EST – Inner Planets Meet Up
In the early evening on March 5, Mercury will sit only 1.5 degrees to the upper right of much brighter Venus. The pair of inner planets will appear low above the western horizon for a short period after sunset, with the optimal time for seeing them between 6:30 and 7 p.m. in your local time zone.
Wednesday, March 7 midnight to dawn – Moon near Jupiter
When the waning gibbous moon rises just before midnight on Tuesday evening, it will be positioned 3 degrees to the upper left of Jupiter. The pair of naked eye objects will cross the sky together during the wee hours, eventually moving to a point low in the southwestern pre-dawn sky on Wednesday morning.
Friday, March 9 after midnight – Jupiter Reverses Direction
The bright planet Jupiter sits within the constellation of Libra this year. On Friday, March 9, the planet will cease its regular eastward motion in front of the distant stars and begin a retrograde loop (red curve with dates) that will last until mid-July. The apparent reversal in Jupiter’s direction is an effect of parallax produced when Earth, on a faster orbit, passes Jupiter on the “inside track.”
Friday, March 9 at 6:20 a.m. EST – Last Quarter Moon
At its last quarter phase, the moon rises around midnight and remains visible in the southern sky during morning daylight. At this time, the moon is illuminated on the eastern side, towards the pre-dawn sun. Last quarter moons are positioned ahead of the Earth in our trip around the sun. About 3½ hours later, earth will occupy that same location in space. After this phase, the waning moon traverses the last quarter of its orbit around the earth, on the way to new moon.
Friday, March 9 pre-dawn – Moon near Mars and Asteroid Vesta
On the morning of Friday, March 9, the last quarter moon will sit 7 degrees to the upper right of reddish Mars. Look for the pairing in the south-eastern sky between about 2 a.m. and dawn in your local time zone. Meanwhile, the major asteroid (4) Vesta will be positioned 4.5 degrees to the left of the moon, and 6.5 degrees above Mars.
Sunday, March 11 pre-dawn – Old Moon meets Saturn
Completing its eastward passage through the pre-dawn planets this month, on the morning of Sunday, March 11, the old crescent moon will sit 4 degrees to the left of the yellowish planet Saturn. Look for the pair of objects low in the south-eastern sky between 5 and 7 a.m. in your local time zone.
Thursday, March 15 early evening – Mercury at Greatest Eastern Elongation
On the evening of Thursday, March 15, Mercury (orbit shown as red curve) will reach its widest separation east of the Sun. Viewed in a telescope (inset) the planet will exhibit a waning half-illuminated phase.
Saturday, March 17 at 9:12 a.m. EDT – New Moon
When new, the moon is travelling between the Earth and the sun. Since sunlight is only reaching the side of the moon turned away from us, and the moon is in the same region of the sky as the sun, the moon is hidden from view. A day or two after new moon, look for the slender sliver of the young crescent moon just above the western horizon after sunset.
Sunday, March 18 after sunset – Moon Venus and Mercury
For about an hour after sunset on Sunday, March 18, the very young crescent moon will form a tight line with bright Venus and much dimmer Mercury low in the western evening sky. The trio will fit within the field of view of binoculars and make a terrific photo opportunity. Use Venus to find them around 7:30 p.m. local time, then watch as the sky darkens and they sink lower.
Tuesday, March 20 at 12:15 p.m. EDT – Vernal Equinox
On Tuesday, March 20 at 12:15 p.m. EDT the sun crosses the celestial equator traveling north, marking the vernal equinox in the northern hemisphere and the beginning of spring. Days and nights are of equal length. The sun rises due east and sets due west.
Tuesday, March 20 evening – Ceres Resumes Eastward Motion
On Tuesday, March 20, the dwarf planet (formerly asteroid) Ceres halts its retrograde motion westward in front of the distant stars (red curve with labeled dates), and resumes its normal eastward motion. The apparent reversal in Ceres’ direction was an effect of parallax produced when Earth, on a faster orbit, passed Ceres on the “inside track”. At visual magnitude 7.8, Ceres will be visible all night in binoculars and telescopes near the northern boundary of Cancer, about 13 degrees to the lower left of the naked eye star Pollux in Gemini. The celestial path of Ceres through June, 2018 is plotted in red.
Thursday, March 22 at 7 p.m. EDT – Moon near Aldebaran
On the evening of Friday, March 22 in the southwestern evening sky, the waxing crescent moon will pass just to the upper left of Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus. Closest approach will occur around 7 p.m. EDT (11:00 GMT). Skywatchers in northeastern Russia, northwestern North America, Greenland, Svalbard, most of Scandinavia, Great Britain, and Ireland can see the moon’s path (green line) carry it across Aldebaran. The star will wink out when the moon’s dark leading limb covers it, and re-appear from the opposite lit limb less than an hour later.
Saturday, March 23 at 11:35 a.m. EDT – First Quarter Moon
At first quarter, the relative positions of the Earth, sun, and moon cause us to see the moon half illuminated – on the western (right-hand) side. First quarter moons rise around noon and set around midnight, so they are visible starting in the afternoon hours. The term quarter moon refers not to its appearance, but the fact that our natural satellite has now completed the first quarter of its orbit around Earth since the last new moon.
Wednesday, March 28 pre-dawn – Full Moon meets Regulus Again
In the western pre-dawn sky of Wednesday, March 28, the waxing gibbous moon will encounter Leo’s brightest star Regulus for the second time this month. When the pair sets shortly before 6 a.m., the moon will still be 3 degrees to the lower right of the star. Later, observers in most of Scandinavia, northern and eastern Russia, Svalbard, northern Greenland, northwestern North America, Aleutian Islands will see the moon occult Regulus.
Wednesday, March 28 at 8:30 p.m. – Venus buzzes Uranus
In the western early evening sky of Wednesday, March 28, our sister planet Venus will pass only 4 arc-minutes from the distant blue-green ice giant planet Uranus. Binoculars or telescopes will be needed to see dim Uranus next to Venus’ bright glare. The two planets will easily fit within the field of view of a backyard telescope. The best time to see the pair comes after the sky darkens around 8:30 p.m. in your local time zone.
Saturday, March 31 at 8:37 a.m. EDT – “Blue” Full Seed Moon
The first full moon of spring, known as the Seed Moon, Pink Moon, Sprouting Grass Moon, Egg Moon, or Fish Moon, always shines in or near the stars of Virgo. Being the second full moon in the calendar month, this is the second “blue” moon of 2018. While full, the moon will also be located only 30 arc-minutes from the double star Porrima in Virgo.
Mercury appears low in the western evening sky early in March to begin the best evening apparition of the year for observers at mid-northern latitudes. Much brighter Venus sitting nearby will help in finding Mercury. The two planets will be less than 1.5 degrees apart from March 2nd through the 5th, but they will be a challenge to spot in the early evening twilight. When Mercury reaches its widest separation east of the Sun on March 15, more slowly ascending Venus will overtake it. For about an hour after sunset on Sunday, March 18, the very young crescent moon will form a tight line with bright Venus and much dimmer Mercury low in the western evening sky. The trio will fit within the field of view of binoculars. Use Venus to find them around 7:30 p.m. in your local time zone, and then watch as the sky darkens and they sink lower. During the course of the month, Mercury will wane from a nearly full phase to a thin crescent, all the while growing in disk size as it moves towards Earth.
During March, Venus steadily swings away from the sun in the western evening sky, commencing a long and very good apparition that lasts into early autumn. Each evening through the month, our bright sister planet will climb higher and become easier to see, sitting on the left side of Mercury for much of the month. For about an hour after sunset on March 18, the very young crescent moon will form a straight line with bright Venus and much dimmer Mercury low in the western evening sky. The trio will fit within the field of view of binoculars. On Wednesday, March 28, Venus will pass extremely close to the distant blue-green ice giant planet Uranus. Binoculars or telescopes will be needed to see dim Uranus next to Venus’ 10,000 times brighter glare, although they will be very close to the horizon before it’s dark enough to see Uranus.
Mars will spend March in the southeastern pre-dawn sky – rising every morning about 3 a.m. local time. On March 12, its eastward orbital motion will carry it from southern Ophiuchus into Sagittarius. For the rest of March it will traverse the rich star fields of the Milky Way, passing squarely between the Lagoon and Trifid nebulas on March 19, and then ending the month within 2 degrees of Saturn and 1 degree from Messier 22. During the course of March, Mars will also slightly brighten (from visual magnitude 0.8 to 0.3) and its apparent disk diameter will increase in size from 6.7 to 8.4 arc-seconds as Earth’s orbital motion slowly reduces our distance from the Red Planet.
After early March, very bright Jupiter will begin to rise before midnight and shine in the southeastern sky until dawn. Throughout the month, the planet will grow slightly brighter and larger in telescopes as Earth slowly draws closer to it ahead of this spring’s opposition. Jupiter will remain in central Libra all month, slowly moving eastward until March 9, when it will commence a retrograde loop that lasts until July. On the morning of March 7, the waning gibbous moon will sit 3 degrees above the planet.
Saturn will be easily observable in the southeastern pre-dawn sky during March, appearing as a yellowish, visual magnitude 0.6 object located above the Teapot asterism of Sagittarius. Over the course of the month Saturn will rise earlier while it climbs away from the sun. All month long, dimmer Mars will move steadily eastward towards Saturn, ending the month only 1.6 degrees to the lower right of the ringed planet. On the mornings of March 10 and 11, the old crescent moon will hop over Saturn. And on the mornings around March 20, Saturn will pass about 1.5 degrees above the globular cluster Messier 22.
During March, blue-green Uranus will be in the lower half of the southwestern evening sky, positioned between the two chains of faint stars that link the fishes of Pisces. At visual magnitude 5.8, Uranus is bright enough to observe in binoculars under dark sky conditions. It remains readily observable only until about mid-month, after which it will become harder to find in the evening twilight. On the evening of March 19, the young crescent moon will sit less than 5 degrees to Uranus’ left. In early evening on March 28, Venus will join Uranus in a very close conjunction low in the western sky, with the two planets separated by only 4 arc-minutes – making a nice sight in a telescope before they set!
During March, blue-tinted Neptune is too close to the sun to be observed. Solar conjunction occurs on March 4, but the shallow morning ecliptic will delay Neptune’s return to visibility in the pre-dawn sky.
Gibbous: Used to describe a planet or moon that is more than 50 percent illuminated.
Asterism: A noteworthy or striking pattern of stars within a larger constellation.
Degrees (measuring the sky): The sky is 360 degrees all the way around, which means roughly 180 degrees from horizon to horizon. It’s easy to measure distances between objects: Your fist on an outstretched arm covers about 10 degrees of sky, while a finger covers about one degree.
Visual Magnitude: This is the astronomer’s scale for measuring the brightness of objects in the sky. The dimmest object visible in the night sky under perfectly dark conditions is about magnitude 6.5. Brighter stars are magnitude 2 or 1. The brightest objects get negative numbers. Venus can be as bright as magnitude minus 4.9. The full moon is minus 12.7 and the sun is minus 26.8.
Terminator: The boundary on the moon between sunlight and shadow.
Zenith: The point in the sky directly overhead.
Night Sky Observing Tips
- Adjust to the dark: If you wish to observe faint objects, such as meteors or dim stars, give your eyes at least 15 minutes to adjust to the darkness.
- Light Pollution: Even from a big city, one can see the moon, a handful of bright stars and sometimes the brightest planets. But to fully enjoy the heavens — especially a meteor shower, the constellations, or to see the amazing swath across the sky that represents our view toward the center of the Milky Way Galaxy — rural areas are best for night sky viewing. If you’re stuck in a city or suburban area, a building can be used to block ambient light (or moonlight) to help reveal fainter objects. If you’re in the suburbs, simply turning off outdoor lights can help.
- Prepare for skywatching: If you plan to be out for more than a few minutes, and it’s not a warm summer evening, dress warmer than you think necessary. An hour of observing a winter meteor shower can chill you to the bone. A blanket or lounge chair will prove much more comfortable than standing or sitting in a chair and craning your neck to see overhead.
- Daytime skywatching: When Venus is visible (that is, not in front of or behind the sun) it can often be spotted during the day. But you’ll need to know where to look. A sky map is helpful. When the sun has large sunspots, they can be seen without a telescope. However, it’s unsafe to look at the sun without protective eyewear. See our video on how to safely observe the sun, or our safe sunwatching infographic.