March Moon & Planet data for 2013


Phases of the moon (times as shown by guide)

  Last quarter:  Mar  4 at 10.53 am NZDT (Mar  3, 21:53 UT)
  New moon:      Mar 12 at  8.51 am NZDT (Mar 11, 19:51 UT)
  First quarter: Mar 20 at  6.27 am NZDT (Mar 19, 17:27 UT)
  Full moon:     Mar 27 at 10.27 pm NZDT (9:27 UT).

The planets in March

As in February, Jupiter and Saturn will be readily visible during March. Jupiter will be best seen in the early evening soon after sunset, Saturn will be visible in the later evening and in the morning half an hour or more before sunrise.

In the evening Mars sets less than half an hour after the Sun and will not be visible. In the morning Venus rises less than half an hour before the Sun at the beginning of the month and is at conjunction near the end of March, so will at best be difficult to see.

Mercury is at inferior conjunction on the 4th and will then become a morning object. Towards the end of March it will be easily seen low to the east an hour before sunrise.

Comet panstarrs may be visible very low to the west an hour after sunset for the first few evenings of March.

The evening sky.

Mars sets less than half an hour after the Sun so will not be visible in March.

Jupiter will still be prominent, visible soon after sunset, but getting low, to the northwest. The planet itself will set less than 4 hours after the Sun at the beginning of March, three hours or less later than the sun at the end of the month. So Jupiter will drop out of sight late evening.

The planet remains in Taurus a few degrees below Aldebaran with the asteroids Vesta and Ceres to its right.

The 35% lit moon is at its closest to Jupiter for the month soon after midday on March 18. The two will be less than a degree apart as seen from New Zealand in the early to mid afternoon, soon after they rise. In the evening, by the time the sky is dark enough to easily see Jupiter, the two will be nearly 3° apart.

Saturn moves more into the evening sky during March rising just after 10:30pm on the 1st and 2 hours earlier on the 31st. At the beginning of the month it will be easily visible to the east at midnight some 15° above the horizon. On the night of March 2, the 7% lit moon will be 2.5° above Saturn.

By the end of March, Saturn will be in a similar position at 10 pm and nearly 40° up by midnight. Saturn will not set until well after sunrise so will also be visible in the morning sky while it is still reasonably dark. The moon passes Saturn for a second time in March, on the night of the 29th-30th. On the morning of the 30th, the moon will be 3° to the left of Saturn. Late on the previous evening the moon will be just over 5° above the planet.

Saturn is in Libra during March moving slowly to the west. The wide double star alpha Lib will be about 5° to the right of Saturn as seen in the late evening sky. By the morning before sunrise, when Saturn will be to the west, the rotation of the sky will bring alpha Lib to be above Saturn.

During March the north pole of Saturn is tilted at an angle of 19° towards the Earth. This tilt will result in the rings being readily visible when the planet is viewed through a small telescope.

The morning sky: Mercury and Venus (and Saturn)

Mercury is at inferior conjunction between the Earth and Sun on March 4. It will then be 94.2 million km (0.63 au) from the Earth and 54 million km (0.36 au) from the Sun

Following conjunction Mercury becomes a morning object, rising before the Sun. The planet will move quite rapidly up into the morning sky during the month. It passes Venus on 7th, by the 12th it will rise about an hour before the Sun, and a week later as much as 2 hours earlier.

At its greatest towards the end of March and beginning of April, Mercury will rise some 2 hours and 20 minutes earlier than the Sun, resulting in its best morning sky appearance of the year for southern hemisphere viewers. An hour before sunrise, the planet will be about 14° above the horizon almost due east. At near zero magnitude it will be the brightest object to the east. This provides an excellent chance to see the elusive planet in the morning sky. With sunrise at 7.30 am or later, it will be visible at a fairly reasonable hour.

Venus is at superior conjunction with the Sun on the morning of March 29, nzdt. It will then be 258 million km (1.72 au) from the Earth and 109 million km from the Sun.

Before conjunction it is a morning object but at the beginning of March it will rise little more than 30 minutes before the Sun, so will not be well placed for viewing. Venus’s time of rise gets closer to that of the Sun during the rest of the month.

Following conjunction, Venus will become an evening object but will set very shortly after the Sun at first.

Outer planets

Uranus is at conjunction with the Sun on March 29, 7 hours after Venus is at superior conjunction. This will mean the planet is too close to the Sun to observe in March. At conjunction, Uranus will be 3149 million km (21 au) from the Earth and 2999 million km from the Sun.

Neptune moves up into the morning sky a little above Mercury. The two are closest on the mornings of the 19 to 21st of March when Neptune will be just under 3° above Mercury. Neptune will be at magnitude 8 with a 7th magnitude star half a degree below it in the direction of Mercury.

Brighter asteroids:

Both (1) Ceres and (4) Vesta start in Taurus during March, not far from Jupiter.

On the 1st, Ceres, at magnitude 8.3 will be 1° to the left of El Nath, beta Tau at mag 1.7 the second brightest star in Taurus. The two are closest on the 8th with Ceres less than half a degree above El Nath. On the 21st Ceres slips into the constellation Auriga and moves almost along its border with Taurus for the rest of the month. On March 31 Ceres will be at magnitude 8.6 and some 18° to the right of Jupiter.

Vesta starts March at magnitude 7.9. It will be to the right of Jupiter and Aldebaran, the three forming an approximate equilateral triangle, just under 6° each side. The asteroid remains in Taurus for the rest of March. By the end of March it will be at magnitude 8.2, its distance from Jupiter increasing to almost 10°

Bright comet:

Comet PANSTARRS will probably be visible in the early evening from the latitude of nz very low an hour after sunset for the first few evenings of March. On the 1st an hour after sunset, it will be to the southwest, but each successive evening it will have shifted a little more towards due west.

It is expected to be brightest on the 9th and 10th at magnitude 0.7 when, if visible, it will then be in a direction only just south of west. The comet will sbe almost directly above the set Sun so in the brightest part of the dusk sky.


Event Diary

The follwing table lists various solar system object events during March. A list of astronomical terms used in may be found after the table.

March 1 Spica 0.1 degrees north of the Moon Occn
March 2 Saturn 3.3 degrees north of the Moon
March 4 Mercury inferior conjunction
Moon last quarter
March 5 Moon southern most declination (-20.5 degrees)
Moon at perigee
March 6 Pluto 0.7 degrees south of the Moon Occn
March 7 Mercury 4.8 degrees north of Venus
March 10 Neptune 5.5 degrees south of the Moon
Mercury 2.0 degrees south of the Moon
March 11 Venus 5.9 degrees south of the Moon
Moon new
March 12 Mars 4.5 degrees south of the Moon
March 13 Uranus 4.0 degrees south of the Moon
March 16 Mercury stationary
March 18 Jupiter 1.4 degrees north of the Moon
Aldebaran 3.6 degrees south of the Moon
Moon northern most declination (20.4 degrees)
March 19 Moon at apogee
Moon first quarter
Jupiter 5.0 degrees north of Aldebaran
March 20 Equinox
March 22 Mars 0.0 degrees north of Uranus
March 24 Regulus 5.4 degrees north of the Moon
March 27 Moon full
March 28 Spica 0.0 degrees north of the Moon Occn
Venus superior conjunction
Venus 0.7 degrees south of Uranus
March 29 Uranus at conjunction
Saturn 3.3 degrees north of the Moon
March 31 Moon at perigee
Mercury greatest elong W(28)
  • apogee: Furtherest point in the orbit of a body orbiting the Earth
  • conjunction: Two astronomical objects are 'lined up' (have the same right ascension) when viewed from Earth
  • declination: 'Latitude' for celestial objects. The distance in degress above (north) or below (south) the celestial equator.
  • inferior conjunction: Conjunction where a solar system object is between the Earth and the Sun
  • perigee: Nearest point in the orbit of a body orbiting the Earth
  • superior conjunction: Conjunction where the Sun is between the Earth another solar system object