Astronomical Events in March 2021

A Planetary Conjunction, An Asteroid Flyby, And Other Exciting Astronomical Events In March 2021.

As far as spaceflight is concerned, February 2021 was an exciting month. However, there wasn’t much to look up in the sky. There were no meteor showers, no eclipses, and no significant planetary events. Although the ‘draught’ of meteor showers will continue until the last week of April, the month of March offers some exciting celestial events that will be easily visible with naked eyes. So here are the top astronomical events in March 2021.

Before we start, make sure you install one of these space apps to quickly locate the planets and other celestial objects according to your location.

Astronomical events in March 2021

March 2: The Moon at perigee

On the second day of the month, the Moon will reach its closest point to the Earth – its perigee and appear slightly bigger than normal. The Moon will be at its perigee twice this month. At its second perigee on March 28, the Moon will reach its full phase: a supermoon!

March 2: Mercury at dichotomy

Mercury’s phase varies depending on its position relative to the Earth. When it passes between the Earth and Sun, the side that is turned towards the Earth is entirely unilluminated, like a new moon. Conversely, when it lies opposite to the Earth in its orbit, passing almost behind the Sun, it appears fully illuminated, like a full moon. However, at this time it is also at its most distant from the Earth, so it is actually fainter than at other times.

Phases of Venus
An illustration showing the phases of an inferior planet

Mercury shows an intermediate half phase – called dichotomy – at roughly the same moment that it appears furthest from the Sun, at greatest elongation. The exact times of the two events may differ by a few hours, only because Mercury’s orbit is not quite perfectly aligned with the ecliptic.

Look for Mercury is the south-east direction in the morning twilight. The planet will be in Capricornus along with Jupiter and Saturn. It won’t be a cakewalk to spot the planet at dawn.

March 5: Conjunction of Mercury and Jupiter

The flagship astronomical event of the month will take place on March 5. The biggest and the tiniest planets of the solar system will have a remarkably close encounter. Jupiter and Mercury will pass within a mere 19.4 arcminutes (about 0.3 degrees) of each other. They will be close enough to fit in the view of a telescope and be observable with naked eyes. Look for the duo in the south-east at dawn. The two planets will rise about 1 hour 20 minutes before the Sun and reach 12 degrees above the horizon before getting lost to the morning twilight.

Astronomical Events in March 2021: The conjunction of Jupiter and Mercury
The conjunction of Mercury and Jupiter. Look in the south-east direction in the early hours of March 5 (Credits: Stellarium Web)

Jupiter will be at mag -2.0 and Mercury at +0.2 (Jupiter will thus appear brighter than Mercury.) This is the closest planetary conjunction since the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn on 21 December 2020. Jupiter and Mercury will lie in Capricornus and will remain close to each other in the surrounding days. This conjunction is one of the most exciting astronomical events in March 2021.

March 5: Flyby of asteroid Apophis

Apophis is one of the most infamous asteroids in history, and now it seems to be back in the spotlight lately, as astronomers prepare to get the last good glimpse of the asteroid before the well-known 2029 “impact.” On March 5, 2021, Apophis will pass within 16.8 million kilometers of the Earth. Although this distance is too large as compared to a mere 19,200 miles in April 2029, the March 2021 flyby is crucial to study this peanut-shaped celestial object.

All telescopes (metaphorically speaking) will be headed towards Apophis in March 2021. The NASA NEOWISE Infrared Space Telescope will be used, and the Goldstone Observatory will also work on the observations. Hopefully, we’ll get everything we want to know until the subsequent close encounters.

March 10: Close approach of Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn

Astronomical Events in March 2021: Close approach of Jupiter, Saturn, and Moon
Astronomical Events in March 2021: The close approach of Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn (Credits: Stellarium Web)

On March 10, the 26-day-old Moon will pass in the vicinity of Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation of Capricornus. The three bodies won’t be close enough to fit inside a telescopic view. Of the two planets, Jupiter will be the brighter one. Look for them in the south-east direction about an hour and a half before sunrise.

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March 11: Neptune at solar conjunction

Neptune’s orbit will take it to the opposite side of the solar system with respect to the Earth. At solar conjunction, the Sun, the Earth, and a superior planet roughly come in a straight line with the Sun in the middle. The planet lies at its farthest distance from the Earth at around solar conjunction. Neptune will be hidden in the Sun’s glare as it passes behind it. It will now become visible after several weeks as an early morning object.

March 13: New Moon

The Moon will pass close to the Sun and be hidden in its glare for a couple of days. It’s a great chance to observe faint star clusters, nebular, and galaxies.

March 14: γ-Normid meteor shower

March is blessed with a minor meteor shower – the γ-Normids, that can produce up to 6 meteors per hour under perfectly dark conditions. There’s a special point called the radiant point associated with every meteor shower. It’s the point in the sky from where all the streaks appear to originate. A meteor shower produces its best displays when its radiant is well up in the sky. The radiant of γ-Normids lies in the constellation of Norma (besides Scorpious). To get the best view of the meteors, you’ll have to be an early bird. The γ-Normid meteor shower will peak in the early hours of March 14.

Astronomical Events in March 2021: Gamma Normid meteor shower
Astronomical Events in march 2021: The γ-Normid meteor shower

There’s absolutely no need for any telescope to watch the shower. Just find a dark place, away from city lights, and give your eyes at least 30 minutes to adapt to the darkness. Look a little away from the radiant point. You can use one of these space apps to locate the radiant quickly.

March 18: The Moon at apogee

The Moon will reach the furthest point along its orbit to the Earth and will appear slightly smaller than at other times.

March 20: The Spring Equinox

The Sun will shine directly over the equator for the first time this year. The March equinox marks the first day of spring in the North and autumn in the South. Every part of the Earth will experience an equal duration of day and night. From here on, days will start getting longer than nights in the Northern Hemisphere and shorter in the Southern Hemisphere. This trend will continue till the Summer Solstice in June.

A Planetary Conjunction, An Asteroid Flyby, And Other Exciting Astronomical Events In March 2021. 2
Astronomical Events in March 2021: The Spring Equinox (Credits: Time And Date)

At this moment, Earth’s axis is tilted neither away from nor towards the Sun but is rather perpendicular to the Sun’s rays, as the illustration shows.

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March 20: The Moon passes Mars

On the day of the Vernal Equinox, the 6-day-old Moon will pass within 1°51′ of Mars. The Red Planet is now an early evening object. It becomes visible about 69 degrees above the western horizon as soon as the dusk sky fades. Look for them in the constellation of Taurus. The pair will set a few minutes before midnight. Since its closest approach to the Earth in October last year, Mars has faded to a magnitude of +1.2. On March 20, the pair will be too widely separated to fit in the view of a telescope.

March 28: Super Worm Moon

One of the most exciting astronomical events in March 2021, the Full Moon will be at perigee on March 28. This event is known as a supermoon. Since the March Full Moon is also referred to as the Worm Moon, the Moon that will rise in the evening of March 28 will be the Super Worm Moon.

Astronomical Events in March 2021: the Supermoon (Super Worm Moon)
Astronomical Events in March 2021: The Super Worm Moon

A supermoon appears about 14% larger and 30% brighter than a normal Full Moon. There are four supermoons in 2021. The next three Full Moons (April 27, May 26, and June 24) will all be supermoons.

March 2021 Planet Round-up

Mercury

Mercury is emerging into the morning sky as it approaches its greatest elongation west. It is visible in the dawn sky, rising about an hour and a half before the Sun. It is then lost to the morning twilight at an altitude of roughly 10 degrees above the horizon. On March 2, Mercury will be at dichotomy, as explained above.

Venus

Venus will soon pass behind the Sun. It is not readily observable since it is very close to the Sun, separated only 6° from it. On March 29, Venus will reach its peak brightness of mag -3.9 in its 2021 evening apparition. But again, because of its close vicinity to the Sun, it won’t be easy to spot the planet.

Mars

Mars has significantly faded over the past six months as it is receding away from the Earth. The planet will be at its apogee in October 2021. In the coming months, the Red Planet will get fainter as it gets closer to the Sun. Currently, Mars becomes accessible in the early evening hours, about 69 degrees above the western horizon.

Jupiter

Jupiter recently passed behind the Sun at solar conjunction. The gas giant is now an early morning object, rising about an hour and a half before the Sun. In the coming months, Jupiter’s brightness will increases as it approaches its opposition and comes closer to our planet. Look for Jupiter and Mercury as they pass close to each other on March 5.

Saturn

Just like Jupiter, Saturn recently passed behind the Sun. Jupiter, Saturn, Mercury, and Venus are clustered together in a small region of the sky. Saturn’s brightness will increases as it approaches its opposition and comes closer to our planet.

Uranus

Uranus will soon pass behind the Sun at solar conjunction. It will become visible as the dusk sky fades, 43° above your western horizon. It will then sink towards the horizon, setting an hour and a half before midnight. You’ll need a telescope to watch Uranus.

Neptune

March is not the best month to see Neptune as the planet will be too close to the Sun. It will be at its solar conjunction on March 11. It’ll take several weeks before Neptune emerges from behind the Sun and becomes visible as an early morning object.

Learn Astrophysics at Home

Did you always want to learn how the universe works? Read our 30-article Basics of Astrophysics series absolutely free of cost. From the popular topics such as stars, galaxies, and black holes to the detailed concepts of the subject like the concept of magnitude, the Hertzsprung Russell diagram, redshift, etc., there is something for everyone in this series. All the articles are given here. Happy reading!

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