The night sky in March 2020

posted 28 Feb 2020, 07:45 by Pete Collins
by Anne Hot

Sunrise     1st:  06.55      31st:  06.43
Sunset      1st:  17.47      31st:  19.43

Astronomical Darkness   1st:  19.43  to  04.57     31st:  21.48  to  04.36

Day length   1st:  10hrs 51' 43"       31st:  12hrs 59' 20" 

The vernal (spring) equinox, when the Sun crosses the celestial equator as it moves northwards, is on Friday 20th at 03.29.  However, despite the name meaning equal night, this day is 12hrs 12' 31" long.  It is the time between the centre of the Sun rising and setting which is 12 hrs, whereas sunrise and sunset are the times when the top edge of the Sun appears and disappears.

BST begins on Sunday 29th at 1am.

Full Moon:  9th at 17.47     New Moon:   24th at 09.28

Lunar perigee:   10th at 06.34   (357,122 km)
Lunar apogee:   24th at 15.24   (406,689 km) 

This full moon occurs less than 13 hours before lunar perigee and the Earth Moon distance is 357,122 km, which makes it a Supermoon.  It is only slightly closer that February's full Moon, so won't appear all that much bigger.

March full Moon is known as the Worm Moon because the frozen ground is said to thaw at this time, allowing worms to burrow out.  Other names are the Lenten Moon,  Chaste Moon, Sap Moon and Crow Moon.


The main highlight is Venus, which is shining brightly, high in the early evening sky throughout March.  The rest of the naked eye planets are morning objects but very low in the pre dawn sky as seen from our latitude.  There is still quite a bit of astronomical darkness in the early part of the month - 9hrs 14 minutes on the night of 1st/2nd but down to 6hrs 48 mins at month end, when it doesn't begin until a few minutes before 10pm.  There are no bright comets and no meteor showers.
And, worst of all, from the end of the month we all have to do everything an hour earlier as BST is forced on us for the next 7 months.


We are now losing the winter highlights of Orion, Sirius and Taurus soon after midnight, though they are still prominent in the south in the early part of the night.
Auriga, with the bright yellowish-white star Capella, is now overhead soon after sunset, with Gemini and Leo also prominent. The not very obvious zodiac constellation, Cancer, is now well placed. The Plough is overhead by midnight, the handle pointing to the orange hued Arcturus, the brightest star north of the celestial equator, in the constellation of Bootes. By the end of March the Summer Triangle will be above the horizon soon after 2am - or by 1am if you've forgotten to put the clock forward.


Mercury:  in Aquarius, mag 3.7
Now a morning object but barely visible as it is so low in the sky throughout March.  On 1st it rises at 06.20 and is still below the horizon at dawn. It moves into Capricorn on 8th and back into Aquarius on 11th.  On 21st the 8% Moon passes about 8 degrees from the planet but the pair are only 1 degree above the horizon as the sky brightens.  By this time it has brightened to mag 0.2.  It reaches greatest eastern elongation, 27.8 degrees from the Sun, on 23rd when it rises at 05.28 but, because of the shallow angle of the ecliptic, is still too low to be seen.  On 31st it rises at 06.17, is at mag 0.0 but 2 degrees below the horizon at dawn.

Venus:  in Pisces,  mag -4.2
Unmissable in the SW sky on cloudless evenings, even from light polluted areas. Observers with a clear horizon should be able to view it in astronomical darkness for about an hour.  On 1st it should be seen soon after 18.00, when it is 33 degrees above the horizon, setting at 22.05. It moves into Aries on 5th and from 7th to 9th passes north of Uranus, closest on 9th at 14.36 when they are separated by only 2 degrees 24'  They should be visible from around 20.00.  Venus is at perihelion on 20th, when it is at a distance of 0.72 AU from the Sun. On 24th, when it has brightened to mag -4.4, it reaches its highest point in the evening sky - 40 degrees in the SW at sunset. On this day it is also at greatest eastern elongation with an apparent separation from the Sun of 46 degrees. On 28th the crescent Moon passes south of the planet, closest in daylight at 10.37.  The pair will be visible in twilight from around 18.50.  The Pleiades are also close by.  On 31st Venus moves into Taurus, it will be 36 degrees above the western horizon at 20.00, visible till around 23.15 and setting at 00.31. 

The other 3 naked eye planets are close together in the pre dawn sky but very low when seen from our latitude. 

Mars: in Sagittarius, mag 1.1
On 1st it rises at 04.30 and reaches 8 degrees in the SE by dawn. On this day it is about 10 degrees west of Jupiter.  It is movig eastwards closing in on the gas giant, on 18th the crescent Moon passes to the right of the pair. On 20th Mars is only 42 arcminutes south of Jupiter at 10.35.  They may be seen, about 10 degrees above the SE horizon as the sky begins to brighten.  On 23rd Mars passes only 2 arcminutes SW of Pluto between 04.30 and 05.30.  The two, especially Pluto, will be very difficult to image, even for expert astrophotographers, as they are so low. By the end of the month Mars has moved close to Saturn, separated by less than one degree at 18.25 but only 8 degrees above the horizon as the sky begins to brighten.  On this day Mars rises at 04.43, is at mag 0.8 and has crossed the border into Capricorn.

Jupiter:  in Sagittarius,  mag -2.0
Rises on 1st at 05.02 and may be visible for a short time around 06.30 when it is at 8 degrees in the SE.  Starts the month midway between Mars and Saturn, easily the brightest of the three. On 18th, Mars and the crescent Moon are close to Jupiter, rising around 04.00.  On 31st it rises at 04.19 (BST), brighter at mag -2.2 and reaches 11 degrees in the SE by dawn.

Saturn: in Sagittarius, mag 0.7
Again, very low in the morning sky, not as easy to see as Jupiter because it is quite a bit fainter.   On 1st it rises at 05.28 and is only 4 degrees above the horizon by dawn. On the morning of 19th the 22% Moon passes 4 degrees SE of the planet.  It moves into Capricorn on 22nd when it rises at 04.11 and gets to 7 degrees by dawn.  On 31st it rises at  04.37 and reaches 8 degrees as the sky brightens.  On this day it is very close to the slightly fainter, much redder Mars.

Uranus:  in Aries, mag 5.9
Visible through binoculars in the early evening during the first half of  the month.  On 1st it is 31 degrees in the SW as the sky darkens around 19.00 and should be visible until 20.15.  On 7th, 8th and 9th it is in the same binocular field of view as Venus.  By 14th it is only 21 degrees in the west at dusk, setting at 22.00.  By 31st it is too low to see easily - only 7 degrees at dusk, and sets at 21.58.

Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 8.0
Appears too close too the Sun to be seen this month.  It is in conjunction with the Sun on 8th, separated by only one degree.  By month end it rises at 06.19 but is only 21 degrees from the Sun, too close for telescopic observation.

Dwarf Planets

Ceres:  in Capricorn, mag 9.3
Another one which is too low in the morning sky to be visible.  On 1st it rises only 10 minutes before the Sun,  Not much better on 31st, only 35 minutes before sunrise.

Pluto:  in Sagittarius, mag 15.1
Still much too low for telescopic observing or imaging.  On 1st it rises at 05.24, on 23rd & 24th it is less than 1 degree from Mars but only reaching 7 degrees above the horizon by dawn.  On 31st it rises at 04.28.

Haumea:  in Bootes, mag 17.3
High enough for imaging for most of the night during March. On 1st it rises at 20.16, reaches 21 degrees in the east by 23.00 and is at its highest point,  52 degrees in the south, at 03.56.  On 31st it rises at 19.15, is at 22 degrees in the east at 21.53 and culminates at 21.53.  Throughout March it is still high in the sky as dawn breaks.

Makemake:  in Coma Berenices, mag 17.2
Also well placed in March. On 1st it rises at 18.10 and is high enough for imaging from around 21.00.  It is at its highest point, 60 degrees, at 02.43. 
It is at opposition on 26th, when it culminates at 01.03.  on 31st it is at 30 degrees in the east as the sky darkens, 60 degrees in the south at 01.43 and 40 degrees in the west at dawn.

Eris:  in Cetus, mag 18.6
Too low for imaging this month.

Asteroid 27 Euterpe, in Virgo, is at opposition on 18th.  Starts the month at mag 9.7, rising at 19.05 and culminating, 39 degrees in the south, at 01.32.  On 18th it culminates at 00.09, a couple of degrees higher and slightly brighter at mag 9.4.  It moves into Leo on 26th and on 31st, back at mag 9.7, reaches its highest point at 00.06, now at 42 degrees in the south.


C/2017 T2 (PANSTARRS) in Cassiopeia, mag 9.3
Circumpolar, moving north westwards along the side of the W asterism. On 1st it is highest at dusk, 61 degrees in the NW at 19.05 and 27 degrees in the north by dawn.  On 31st it is close to Polaris, so reasonably high throughot the night.  It is predicted that it will have brightened slightly.

C/2018 N2 (ASSASSN) in Andromeda is also circumpolar but much fainter around mag 12.7 and fading.

C/2019 Y1 (ATLAS) in Pegsus, mag 11.3.  Too low for imaging until the end of March, it moves into Andromeda on 18th and becomes circumpolar on 23rd. On 31st it reaches 24 degrees in the NE just before dawn.

For more information and exact positions of all solar system objects see:

and, for comet news

Meteor Showers

March is a very poor month for meteor watchers in the northern hemisphere.  Observers south of the equator might see a few Gamma Normids, active Feb 25th to March 28th, peak 14th, ZHR 6.  For those of us further north there are no showers, even sporadic activity is usually low at this time.  We might be able to see the occasional meteor from the Antihelion Source - these are meteors not belonging to any recognised shower, which have their radiant on the ecliptic, opposite the position of the Sun.  In March the radiant moves through southern Virgo and has a ZHR of 3.