Night sky highlights March 2017

This month, make sure you catch Venus while the planet is still bright in the evening sky.

(Details given are for London and will vary for other parts of the UK.)

1 March – look for Venus, Mars and the Moon making a triangle in the south-west sky just after sunset. Venus has been the bright ‘evening star’ for the last few months but as it approaches inferior conjunction on 25 March (where it will pass between the Earth and Sun) Venus will become more and more difficult to see, marking the end of its phase of evening appearances.

5 March – try and spot the first quarter Moon beside Aldebaran (the brightest star in the constellation of Taurus) and close by will also be the red supergiant star Betelgeuse. If Aldebaran was the star in our solar system, its surface would extend out to the orbit of Mercury but Betelgeuse is even bigger. If placed in our Solar system, the surface of Betelgeuse would extend to the orbits of Mars or Jupiter!

10 March – by now the waxing gibbous Moon will be within 1° of the blue-white star Regulus. Regulus has the honour of being the closest star to the ecliptic (the apparent path of the Sun during the year) and the ecliptic also marks the line along which the Moon and planets wander. This is why the Moon passes very close to Regulus every month and may sometimes even occult (pass directly in front of) it.

14 March – catch a three body spectacle around midnight with the Moon close to the planet Jupiter and the bright star Spica. You’ll be able to see Jupiter with just your eyes but grab a pair of binoculars or a telescope and have a look for its four largest moons – Io will be on one side and Europa, Ganymede and Calisto on the other.

20 March – the Sun will cross the celestial equator today, marking the Vernal Equinox. This is the start of spring, when the North Pole of the Earth begins to lean towards the Sun again and the hours of daylight and darkness on this day are approximately the same length.

Have a look for the last quarter Moon beside Saturn in the southern sky in the early morning of the 20th before sunrise.

Get prepared for stargazing

When looking at faint objects such as the stars, nebulae, the Milky Way and other galaxies it is important to allow your eyes to adapt to the dark – so that you achieve night vision. Allow 15 minutes for your eyes to become sensitive in the dark and remember not to look at your mobile phone or any other bright device when stargazing. If you are using a star app on your phone switch on the red night vision mode.

Need a stargazing telescope or decent binoculars? Check out our range of high-quality observing equipment recommended by Royal Observatory astronomers:

See our range of observing equipment

Share your astronomy pictures

Don’t forget to share your pictures of the night sky with us on Twitter @ROGAstronomers or via Facebook

Why not enter your images in the world’s biggest astrophotography competition? Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2017 is now open for entries.

Find out more and enter

Come and see last year’s amazing entries in our free exhibition at the Royal Observatory.

Visit the free Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year exhibition

See more of the night sky

Come on a fantastic tour of this month's night sky in our Sky Tonight live planetarium show.

See the Sky Tonight planetarium show

Join astronomer and comedian Jon Culshaw on 9 March for a unique and personal trip through the cosmos.

Jon Culshaw's Guide to the Night Sky

Main banner image: Venus Lunar Occultation © O Chul Kwon