A beautiful, triangle-shaped glow of cosmic light appears in the western sky from late March through early April for those of you who live in mid-northern latitudes (e.g., most of the US, southern Europe, Japan, northern China). Called the “zodiacal light” (as the triangle of light extends from the sun along the constellations of the zodiac), this wondrous apparition can be viewed only if you are far away from city lights, beginning about 80 minutes after sunset. The zodiacal light will appear slightly dimmer than the Milky Way. Zodiacal light is caused by the reflection of sunlight off of dust particles in the solar system.
See the star Spica near the Moon
The bright star Spica — part of the Name A Star Live constellation Virgo — will be near the Moon throughout the night of March 20-21 (March 21-22 for those of you in the southern hemisphere). Spica is actually a binary star system — a pair of stars that orbit one another in space. (You can name binary stars with Name A Star Live!) Specifically, it’s an “eclipsing binary” meaning that the two stars pass in front of one another, causing the star’s brightness to vary. Although the two stars in the Spica system eclipse one another every four days, Spica’s brightness (a.k.a. its “apparent magnitude”) doesn’t fluctuate very much. Look for Spica — a first magnitude star (and the 15th brightest star in the night sky) — this month!
The planets this month
Mid-March will be the best time to see the elusive planet Mercury this year! You’ll need a clear view of the western horizon. Look for two, bright points of light (the planets Jupiter and Mercury) very close to the western horizon, shortly after sunset: If you can, try viewing the two planets from a high vantage point, like a tall building or hillside so that trees, buildings or other obstructions don’t block your view. Jupiter will be the ‘star’ on the left, and Mercury will be the ‘star’ on the right. Both planets — together with the sun — will be in the Name A Star Live constellation Pisces.
The beautiful, ringed planet Saturn is visible in the eastern sky during the late evening hours, and is visible the balance of the night as a bright point of light moving westward with the stars until sunrise. Even with a small telescope you should be able to see Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. Saturn is in the Name A Star Live constellation Virgo now.
Venus is the ‘morning star,’ visible in the east before sunrise. However, it’s never much to look at through a telescope as Venus is perpetually shrouded in clouds. Venus is in the Name A Star Live constellation Capricorn this month.
Mars is on the other side of the Sun now, so we cannot see the Red Planet this month.
When to go stargazing this month
Moonlight ‘drowns out’ the faint light of many stars and other celestial objects, so the best time to view the stars is when the Moon is not visible. If you’re going to stargaze between sunset and midnight, then the best time to do that this month is during the first 8 or 9 days, and during the last few days of March.
Finding your star in the night sky
Stars are located within constellations, which are just areas of the night sky. Scorpius, Aries and Taurus are examples of constellations. Your Name A Star Live Star Certificate displays the name of your constellation.
You can use our online World Constellation Guide to determine if you can see your constellation during the evening hours (between sunset and midnight). Of course, you’ll need a telescope to see your star. (That’s why we include the SLOOH online telescope experience in our Deluxe, Framed and Ultimate Gift Sets!) But you can see your constellation without the use of a telescope.