The month of March is named after Mars, the Roman god of war who was also the guardian of agriculture and the land. March was the first month of the year on the early Roman calendar 2,700 years ago.

March marks the beginning of spring for us in the northern hemisphere. This year that will happen at 12:30 a.m. on Sunday, March 20, one week before Easter. The beginning of spring can be defined as the second that the sun on the ecliptic crosses the celestial equator on an upward path. The spring and fall equinoxes are the only two days each year that the sun rises due east and sets due west for everyone on Earth except for the poles and that day and night are each 12 hours long.

There will be several highlights this month, but you will need to travel halfway around the world to see the major one – a total eclipse of the sun over Borneo and Indonesia. The shadow cone of the moon will graze the spherical surface of the Earth, touching down on the Indian Ocean a few hundred miles west of Sumatra and Malaysia. Our moon’s quarter-million-mile shadow will then continue crossing over Borneo, just north of Bali and south of the Philippines. A few hours later the shadow will lift off the surface of the Earth a few hundred miles west of California in the Pacific Ocean.

Totality will last about three minutes over part of this path. That will be around 9 a.m. local time Wednesday, March 9, which will be 9 p.m. on Tuesday, March 8 for us.

You can watch a live feed of the eclipse at They will start their coverage at 6 p.m. our time on March 8. I watched some of the transit of Venus on their site back on June 5, 2012. You can also use remote controlled professional telescopes to take you own pictures of the sky through this site. Professional astronomers like Bob Berman, who has written several books, including “The Sun’s Heartbeat,” and Alex Filippenko will be watching this eclipse live in Indonesia and offering their expert commentary to deepen our understanding.

Focusing on this very different part of our world for a few hours will also broaden our view of our own possibilities and raise our appreciation for our home planet, which 7.3 billion of us share as we spiral around the sun along with our great family of planets, all being flung around the center of our Milky Way galaxy at enormous speeds.

Watching this eclipse carefully will prepare us for our own total solar eclipse coming up in just over a year, on Aug. 21, 2017. The moon’s shadow will carve a path from Oregon to South Carolina that day, the first time in nearly a century that we will enjoy a coast-to-coast eclipse over this country. Then there will be another total solar eclipse over the United States again less than seven years later, on April 8, 2024. Their tracks will trace a giant X across the country. The center of this X will be near Carbondale in southern Illinois. Usually a given place on Earth has to wait about 400 years between total solar eclipses, and Carbondale will have two of them in less than seven years. The 2024 eclipse will be total in Maine over Mt. Katahdin.

Jupiter will reach opposition – opposite the sun from Earth – on March 8. The king of the planets has been steadily getting higher and brighter in our sky the past couple of months. Now it will rise exactly at sunset, reach its highest point at midnight and not set until sunset. If our own shadow were long enough, it would touch Jupiter on that day. However, our shadow only reaches about one million miles, which is about 499 million miles short of Jupiter. Notice that Jupiter is now 2.5 times brighter than our brightest star, Sirius in Canis Major, just two constellations to the west of Jupiter in Leo.

Mars will rise next, around midnight. The red planet will double in brightness this month and gain 3 arc seconds in size. By the middle of this month, Mars will be large enough to discern some of its features in an average telescope. Those include some of its dark markings, its thin atmosphere and its north polar ice cap. Mars will be close to Antares, the brightest star in Scorpius. Its name means “rival of Mars.” They have a similar orange color but Mars is currently brighter than Antares, which is an orange giant about 700 times larger than our sun.

The New Horizons spacecraft’s July 14 close pass of Pluto and Charon just showed that Pluto has shield volcanoes similar to the ones on Mars. They are called cryovolcanoes on Pluto because it is much too cold for lava at minus-380 degrees Fahrenheit. They probably used to erupt a slurry of melted ice instead of molten rock like on Earth and Mars. Pluto’s atmosphere is much colder and denser than predicted and very little of it is escaping into space.

Saturn rises about one hour after Mars. The ringed planet is also getting closer and brighter each morning, approaching opposition on June 4.

Then brilliant Venus will rise just one hour before the sun. Mercury has already dropped out of the great lineup of five planets in the morning sky, but it is still fairly unusual to see four of the five brightest planets all lined up in either the morning or evening sky. We will lose Venus as a morning object by the end of the month.

Two comets will be visible this month in a telescope at about 8th magnitude. They will trace similar paths in the sky. Catalina is moving from Perseus to Camelopardalis and Ikeya-Murakami is moving through Leo near Jupiter. Catalina is on a hyperbolic orbit taking it right out of our solar system, and the other comet swings past our sun every 5.4 years. It will be between two open star clusters in Perseus during the end of the month. At the same time, the other comet will be near a bright spiral galaxy in Leo.


March 1: Last-quarter moon is at 6:11 p.m..

March 2: Pioneer 10 was launched on this day in 1972. It sent its last signal back to us 13 years ago and is now over 10 billion miles away. It is beyond the heliopause, where the sun’s influence ends and interstellar space begins. This was the first spacecraft to carry an intentional message to other civilizations. The moon passes 4 degrees north of Saturn at 2 a.m.

March 8: Jupiter is at opposition at 6 a.m. today. New moon is at 8:54 p.m. There will be a total solar eclipse over Indonesia tonight at that time. We are in an eclipse season again. The last eclipse we had was a wonderful total lunar eclipse of the super harvest moon on Sept. 27 last year, easily visible to everyone here in prime time.

March 10: The moon is at perigee, or closest to Earth, at 223,389 miles.

March 13: Daylight Savings Time begins at 2 a.m. William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus on this day in 1781. Neptune would be predicted mathematically and then discovered in 1846.

March 14: Albert Einstein was born on this day in 1879. The recent discovery of gravitational waves further vindicates another amazing prediction of his general theory of relativity, which was published just over 100 years ago. The moon passes near Aldebaran in Taurus tonight.

March 15: First-quarter moon is at 1:03 p.m.

March 16: Caroline Herschel, the sister of William, was born on this day in 1750. An accomplished astronomer in her own right, she discovered many of the star clusters and nebulae in the Herschel catalogue along with eight new comets.

March 20: The vernal equinox is at 12:30 a.m.

March 21: The moon passes 2 degrees south of Jupiter tonight.

March 22: Comet Hale Bopp was closest to Earth on this day in 1997.

March 23: Full moon is at 8:01 a.m. This is also called the Worm, Lenten, Crow or Sap Moon. A penumbral lunar eclipse will happen but we will not notice it.

March 25: Saturn ends its direct, eastward motion and begins its retrograde loop today.

March 28: The moon passes 4 degrees north of Mars today.

March 29: The moon passes 3 degrees north of Saturn today.

March 31: Last-quarter moon is at 11:17 a.m.

Bernie Reim of Wells is co-director of the Astronomical Society of Northern New England.