Look up with the March 2018 sky map to navigate the stars and constellations in the night sky. On this page is both a color sky map and a black and white printable map to bring outside!
Just click here or on the image below to open the printable map—then bring outside!
Highlight for March: Tiny Mercury and Brilliant Venus
The planet Earth is sometimes called the Third Rock from the Sun. The first two “rocks” (planets) are Mercury and Venus, and March offers the perfect opportunity to view them both.
The two planets are close together, low in the west, during the middle two weeks of March. The grandest view is shortly after sunset on the evening of March 18, when the thin crescent Moon joins the duo for a beautiful display. The Moon appears near Mercury and Venus for one night only, but the two planets remain in the area for about two weeks, before Mercury sinks below the horizon while Venus drifts slowly upward.
Mercury, named for the Roman messenger of the gods, is notoriously difficult to observe, even with a telescope. It is the smallest of the eight major planets, about 40 percent the diameter of Earth. It is always near the Sun and is often lost in our star’s glare. Just a few times a year, Mercury is visible after sunset in the evening twilight (such as this month) and in the morning twilight before the Sun rises. On these occasions, the planet is always low in the sky, not far above the horizon.
Mercury has been visited twice by spacecraft, which provided the only detailed photos and scientific information ever gathered about the planet. Mariner 10 flew by Mercury in 1974–75, and Messenger observed Mercury for 11 years, ending in 2015. A photo of Mercury made by Messenger is included on this month’s sky map. It resembles our Moon, doesn’t it?
The other celestial celebrity on the map is blazing Venus, Goddess of Love, the second planet from the Sun. Detailed views of Venus are difficult to obtain, even with spacecraft. The planet is eternally shrouded in a thick, virtually impenetrable atmosphere that hides its surface from view. Venus and Earth are often called the Twin Planets because they are nearly the same size and in relatively close proximity. Because of its nearness to Earth, Venus has been visited many times by spacecraft. The visits quickly dispelled any the romantic vision of fantasy of Twin Planets’ likeness.
Venus is a greenhouse world but an inhospitable place. The thick Venusian atmosphere reflects sunlight, making the planet very bright for us viewers, but it also insulates it, retaining heat: On averages, the temperature on Venus is nearly 900 degrees F. The Soviet space program landed spacecraft on Venus in 1975 and 1982. Before being destroyed by the intense heat, the landers transmitted photos showing a barren, rocky surface.
March 2018 Sky Map
Click here or on image below to enlarge this map (PDF).
Sky map produced using Chris Marriott’s Skymap Pro
After viewing Mercury and Venus during twilight, wait for darkness so you can enjoy the many other lovely sights in the March sky. At the top center of the map is the pentagon of Auriga the Charioteer, anchored by Capella, the sixth brightest star in the sky. The leftmost corner of Auriga connects to Taurus the Bull, home of reddish Aldebaran, the 14th brightest star, and the Hyades star cluster. To the right and below the Hyades lie the Pleiades, a compact star cluster known as the Seven Sisters. If you have clear skies and very sharp vision, you might see all seven of the Sisters!
Enjoy astronomy? Check out Bob Berman’s column, “This Week’s Amazing Sky.”