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Regulus and asteroid. Moon and planets. Tomorrow’s equinox

Image credit: Akira Fujii / Sky & Telescope magazine

Tonight for March 19, 2014

The asteroid 163 Erigone will hide a very bright star, Regulus in the constellation Leo, from view for several seconds on the morning of March 20, 2014, for well-placed skywatchers. Can’t see the occultation of Regulus? Never fear, the sky has more. Tonight’s waning moon is near two planets, Mars and Saturn, plus the bright star Spica. Plus … it’s equinox time. The 2014 March equinox comes tomorrow – on Thursday, March 20 – at precisely 16:57 UTC. That’s midday for us in the western hemisphere. Follow the links below to learn more about the sky events for today and tomorrow, March 19-20, 2014.

Asteroid 163 Erigone will blot out the bright star Regulus tonight.

Moon near planets Saturn and Mars, plus star Spica tonight.

Equinox 2014 comes before midday Thursday, March 20 for most of U.S.

Are you an early riser? If so, let the moon guide your eye to the planets Saturn and Mars, plus the star Spica on Thursday, March 20.

Let the moon guide your eye to the planets Saturn and Mars, plus the star Spica on the night of March 19-20, 2014. Click here to generate a calendar that’ll show the moonrise time in your location.

Moon near planets Saturn and Mars, plus star Spica tonight. The waning gibbous moon has been moving past the planet Mars and bright star Spica for several nights now. Tonight’s moon is far enough east of Mars and Spica on our sky’s dome that it’s noticeable near another bright planet, Saturn. The chart above shows these world’s with respect to tonight’s moon. To see these planets, you’ll need to be looking fairly late at night. Try this custom sunrise-sunset calendar for your location, and be sure to check the box for moonrise times.

Mars is in front of the constellation Virgo, near Virgo’s brightest star Spica. Mars is the planet to watch now! It’s becoming much more conspicuous in our sky. It began retrograde motion on March 1, a sure sign that its opposition is approaching. At opposition on April 8, Earth will be passing between the sun and Mars. It’ll be rising at sunset then. Our sweep between the sun and Mars marks the middle of the best time to see Mars in two years!

Read more: When to see Mars in 2014

Earth will pass (more or less) between Saturn and the sun about a month later, on May 10, 2014. Saturn is now in front of the constellation Libra. You need a telescope to see its rings, but it’s fun to watch with the eye as well. Saturn shines with a beautiful golden color.

Read more: How to see Saturn in 2014

Day and night sides of Earth at instant of March 2014 equinox

Day and night sides of Earth at the instant of the March 2014 equinox (2014 March 20 at 16:57 Universal Time). At the instant of the equinox, the sun is at zenith over the equator in Columbia, South America.

Day and night sides of Earth at the instant of the March 2014 equinox (2014 March 20 at 16:57 Universal Time). At the instant of the equinox, it is midday in New England, and the sun is at zenith over the equator in Columbia, South America.

Sunset spot for equinoxes and solstices via Flickr user montztermash

No matter where you are on Earth, if you watch the sunrise or sunset on March 20, you will be gazing due east or due west. Image via Flickr user montztermash

Equinox 2014 comes before midday March 20 for most of U.S. The 2014 March equinox comes at precisely 16:57 UTC. That’s the standard time in Greenwich, England, and it marks a single time for this equinox as noted from a whole-Earth perspective – when the sun stands directly overhead as seen from Earth’s equator.

As always, our clocks will say different times. For the most of the United States, the equinox comes before midday (approximately 1 p.m. Daylight Saving Time) on March 20: 12:57 p.m EDT, 11:57 a.m. CDT, 10:57 a.m. MDT or 9:57 a.m. PDT. Meanwhile, the spring equinox will happen at sunrise in the Pacific Ocean (just east – or right – of the International Date Line), and at sunset in eastern Europe and Africa. One event – different time zones and different times on the clock – when the sun crosses the celestial equator, bring this equinox to all of us around the globe.

This 2014 March equinox – which happens before midday for most of us in the United States – marks the first day of spring or autumn, depending on your location north or south on Earth’s globe. For the Northern Hemisphere, the March equinox marks the first day of spring. In the Southern Hemisphere, it signals the beginning of autumn.

The March equinox happens when the sun crosses the celestial equator from south to north. The celestial equator is a projection of the Earth’s equator onto the so-called celestial sphere.

The sun in front of the backdrop constellations on the Northern Hemisphere's spring equinox (Southern Hemisphere's autumn equinox). Image via Wikimedia Commons

This intersection point is sometimes called the First Point in Aries. But at this March equinox and all of those in our lifetimes, it happens when the sun is in front of the constellation Pisces. Over the long course of time, different constellations provide a backdrop to the sun as it soars above the Earth’s equator, going from south to north, year after year.

Over 2,000 years ago, the March equinox sun shone in front of the constellation Aries. Now the sun is in front of Pisces on the March equinox, and 600 years in the future, the March equinox sun will shine in the constellation Aquarius. It’s a 26,000-year cycle – Earth’s precession – that causes our vantage point on the stars to shift.

By the way, according to the mathematical wizard Jean Meeus, the March equinox sun passed out of the constellation Aries and into the constellation Pisces in 68 B.C. Not until A.D. 2597 will the March equinox sun leave the constellation Pisces and enter into the constellation Aquarius.

Of course, the date on which the sun crosses a constellation boundary depends entirely on the location of that boundary. And the drawing of constellation boundaries is a human pursuit. The International Astronomical Union officially decided on the current boundaries of the constellations early in the 20th century.

So, wherever you are on Earth’s globe, celebrate this equinox, as the sun crosses the celestial equator, going from south to north!

Bottom line: The asteroid 163 Erigone will hide the bright star Regulus from view for several seconds on the morning of March 20, 2014, for well-placed skywatchers. Tonight’s waning moon is near two planets, Mars and Saturn, plus the bright star Spica. The 2014 vernal equinox – spring equinox for the Northern Hemisphere, and autumn equinox for the Southern Hemisphere – falls on Thursday, March 20 at precisely 16:57 UTC. Translating UTC to local time in U.S. time zones, that places the 2014 March equinox at 12:57 p.m. EDT, 11:57 a.m. CDT, 10:57 a.m. MDT or 9:57 a.m. PDT on Thursday, March 20.

2014 equinox: Sun rises due east and sets due west

Everything you need to know: Vernal or spring equinox 2014

A Chinese perspective on the spring equinox

A planisphere is virtually indispensable for beginning stargazers. Order your EarthSky Planisphere today.

Not too late. Order your 2014 EarthSky Lunar Calendar today!