The Solar System In March 2017

Dates and times shown are NZDT (UT + 13 hours).

Sunrise, sunset and twilight times in March

Times are for Wellington. They will vary by a few minutes elsewhere in NZ.

                 March  1  NZDT                   March 31  NZDT
                morning  evening                 morning  evening
SUN: rise:   6.59am,  set:  8.06pm    rise:   7.32am,  set:  7.16pm
Twilights Civil: starts: 6.33am, ends: 8.32pm starts: 7.07am, ends: 7.42pm Nautical: starts: 6.00am, ends: 9.06pm starts: 6.35am, ends: 8.14pm Astro: starts: 5.24am, ends: 9.41pm starts: 6.03am, ends: 8.46pm

The southern autumnal equinox is on March 20 at 11:29 pm

March phases of the moon (times as shown by guide)

          First quarter: March  6 at 12.32 am (Mar  5, 11:32 UT)
  Full moon:     March 13 at  3.54 am (Mar 12, 14:54 UT)
  Last quarter   March 21 at  4.58 am (Mar 20, 15:58 UT)
  New moon:      March 28 at  3.57 pm (02:57 UT)

The planets in March 2017

Mercury, Venus and Neptune are all at conjunction with the Sun during March so will be too close to the Sun for observation much of the month. Mars will remain an early evening object rather low to the west at sunset. Jupiter will move up into the evening sky being a few days short of opposition at the end of the month. Saturn is mostly a morning object but will rise shortly before midnight by the end of March.

Mercury is virtually unobservable throughout March. It is at superior conjunction on the far side of the Sun at midday on the 7th, NZ time. At conjunction the planet will pass 1.5° south of the Sun as seen from the Earth. Mercury will then be 204 million km ( 1.36 AU) from the Earth placing it 55.8 million km beyond the Sun

Before conjunction it is a morning object, but rises only 30 minutes before the Sun on the 1st. After conjunction Mercury becomes an evening object, but even by the 31st it will set only 30 minutes after the Sun.

Evening planets, venus, mars and jupiter

Venus sets some 40 minutes after the Sun on March 1. It is a very low object, only 4° up, 15 minutes after sunset, 30° north of the position of the set Sun. The comet Encke at magnitude 5.2 will then be 9° to the left of Venus and slightly lower but too faint to observe.

The angular distance of Venus from the Sun steadily decreases during the month until the planet is at inferior conjunction late on the evening of March 25. At conjunction the planet will pass 8° north of the Sun as seen from the Earth. It will be 42 million km from us and 108 million from the Sun.

After conjunction Venus will move into the morning sky and rise about 35 minutes before the Sun on the 31st but will be too low for observation.

Mars will also be a low early evening object. On the 1st it will be about 10° up 40 minutes after sunset, at the time Venus sets. Mars will be a little to the right of the position of Venus. Uranus will be less than 2° to the left of Mars but at magnitude 5.9 a difficult binocular object in the twilit sky.

Mars manages to keep ahead of the Sun during March, it sets 100 minutes after the Sun on the 1st and 85 minutes after on the 31st. The magnitude of Mars dims from 1.3 to 1.5 during the month.

On the evening of March 2 the 16% lit crescent moon will be just over 6° from Mars, above and to the right of the planet. A rather similar meeting of Mars and the moon will occur on the 31st, with the moon then 13% lit.

Jupiter will be the planet of the evening sky during March, although on the 1st it will not rise until 90 minutes after the Sun sets. By the end of March it will be up only 16 minutes after the Sun goes down.

On the 1st it will be 10.30 pm before Jupiter is reasonably easy to see 9° up to the east with Spica 4° to the upper right of the planet. The two form a pair throughout March, by the 31st they will be 6° apart.

On the 14th, two days after full moon, the latter will be 6.5° to the left of Jupiter as seen late evening, by the following morning the two will just over 4° apart. The rotation of the sky will bring the moon below Jupiter with Spica above the planet. The three should make an interesting grouping throughout the night.

Saturn in the morning sky.

Saturn rises an hour after midnight on the 1st and close to 11 pm on the 31st. Thus it remains essentially a morning sky object. The planet is in Sagittarius but some distance from the brighter stars of the constellation.

The last quarter moon will be just over 4° from Saturn on the morning of 21st NZ time.

Outer Planets

Uranus, at magnitude 5.9, remains in Pisces throughout the month setting 95 minutes after the Sun on the 1st, but only 30 minutes later on the 31st. It starts the month a couple of degrees to the left of Mars, but the latter moves steadily away from Uranus during the month. Also on the 1st the 9% lit crescent moon will be 7° to the left of Uranus with Mars 2° on the opposite side of Uranus, the three forming an almost horizontal line. The following evening the moon will be to the upper right of Mars.

Neptune is another planet at conjunction with the Sun in March, on the 2nd. After conjunction it will become a morning object, rising nearly 2.5 hours before the Sun on the 31st. The planet at magnitude 8.0 remains in Aquarius throughout March.

Pluto is in the morning sky rising about 2.35 am on the 1st and 12.40 am on the 31st. It will remain in Sagittarius about 2.5° from the 2.9 mag star pi Sgr.

Minor Planets

(1) Ceres is an early evening object, magnitude 9.1. It starts the month in Cetus but moves into Aries starting on the 3rd. By the 31st it will set about 9 pm and be 4.5° to the upper right of Mars with the crescent moon 5.5° to the upper right of Ceres, the three not quite in line.

(4) Vesta an evening object in March will have a magnitude rising from 7.2 to 7.6 during the month. It is stationary early in the month and will then move slowly to the east. The asteroid is in Gemini and will be only 2.4° from beta Gem, Pollux, magnitude 1.2 by the end of March.

A loose cluster of asteroids are bright enough to be seen in binoculars at the beginning of March. On the 1st they are probably best seen about 11pm when they will be between NNE and NE. The asteroids are (9) METIS, (14) IRENE and (29) AMPHITRITE in Leo and (15) EUNOMIA in Sextans. Irene, magnitude 9.1, is just under 7° to the lower left of Metis, 9.2, while Amphitrite, 9.2, is some 14° to the upper right of Metis. Eunomia, mag 9.4,is further away, 21° above Metis. Regulus, the brightest star in Leo, is near midway between Eunomia and Metis, a little closer to the latter. At 11 pm the star will be about 30° above the horizon.

All four asteroids fade during the month and are likely to be lost to binocular view by the 31st.

COMET P/Encke (2P) is in Pisces fairly close to Venus with a magnitude 5.5 on the 1st. But it will be too low in southern skies following sunset to observe.

Brian Loader  
New Zealand