Wed. Nov 29th, 2023
Eyes in the sky - March

Welcome to Ontario Parks’ “Eyes in the Skies” series. This space (see what we did there?) will cover a wide range of astronomy topics with a focus on what can be seen from the pristine skies found in our provincial parks.

March is one of the most glorious months for camping or simply spending time outdoors enjoying our parks.

On March 20, the Earth passes through the spring equinox. This is the day that formally marks the beginning of spring and offers equal hours of sunlight and darkness.

Here are our March astronomical highlights:


Sunrise through a row of evergreen trees in the snow.

Sunrise and sunset times

March 1 March, 15th* March 31st
Sunrise 7:05 a.m. 7:42 a.m. 7:15 a.m.
One 12:42 p.m. 13:38 13:34
Sunset 6:20 p.m. 19:36 19:54

*We enter Eastern Daylight Time (“advance” our clocks one hour) at 3:00 am on Sunday, March 12. All times expressed after March 12 are in EDT

In March, the Earth’s orbit around the Sun and the tilt of its axis of rotation allows us to observe the spring equinox, when the Sun appears to be above the celestial equator (an imaginary extension of the Earth’s equator into space). . At this time of year there is the same amount of light during the day and at night. Interestingly, the equinoxes (both spring and autumn) are No the days when we have equal day and night. This is due to a few factors, including the fact that sunrise and sunset are not measured from the center of the Sun, but from the point at which its upper edge rises or sets above or below the horizon.

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The moon has long captivated observers of all ages.

The lunar phases of the March moon occur as follows:

A chart showing the phases of the moon in March 2023, beginning with a crescent moon on March 4 and ending with a first quarter moon on March 29.

Did you know that many First Nations teachings, including those of the Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee people, use the back of a turtle’s shell as a lunar calendar?

The planets: the great Jupiter/Venus conjunction

The planets Jupiter and Venus put on an interesting show on March 1 when they are in conjunction.

A conjunction occurs when one planet appears, from our perspective, to pass another planet. They do No They have to get closer to each other, just pass each other.

On the night of March 1, Venus and Jupiter will make a close approach conjunction. At that time, they will appear to be a little further apart than the width of the Full Moon.

Image of a night sky with Jupiter and Venus highlighted Conjunction of Jupiter and Venus on the night of March 1. Image courtesy of SkySafari Pro Version 6.0

In reality, the planets are not approaching each other in outer space. Rather, it is just the appearance of the two planets as seen from Earth.

Image of the night sky with the planets Jupiter and Venus highlightedConjunction of Jupiter and Venus on the night of March 1. Image courtesy of SkySafari Pro Version 6.0

This is one of those times when the science of astronomy differs from the ancient ideas of astrology. In the early days of astrology, it was believed that the planets were actually close to each other, since it was unknown how the true configuration of the solar system was arranged.

Comets and meteor showers

March is a quiet month from a meteor shower perspective. However, observers can always see sporadic meteors (random or unidentified showers) as they occur.

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Black night sky with a shooting star.

On any given night, in the dark skies of provincial parks, between five and ten meteors can be seen per hour, especially after midnight.

March constellations

Constellation diagram

In last month’s blog, we talked about Gemini, the Twins, as well as two other prominent constellations seen in the winter.

This month’s post will focus on three constellations that mark the transition from winter to spring: Leo the Lion, Cancer the Crab, and Coma Berenices.

This completes our review of March skies.