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March to herald early arrival of spring and several other alluring astronomical events

March will offer many opportunities to see the moon pair up with planets in the night sky.

As Old Man Winter loosens his grip and the bitterly cold nights of winter fade away to milder spring evenings, people will be more inclined to spend some time under the heavens and take in the night sky.

March will not only herald the start of spring, with the 2020 equinox arriving earlier than any other equinox in the last 124 years, but also many opportunities to see the moon pair up with planets in the night sky.

Here are the top three astronomy events to look for throughout March:

1. Super Worm Moon
When:
March 9

Winter's final full moon will rise on March 9 and will appear slightly larger than all others throughout the season, as it will be a type of full moon known as a supermoon.

The term supermoon has been popularized in recent years to describe a full moon that falls near perigee, the point in the moon's orbit when it is closest to the Earth. As a result, it appears slightly bigger and brighter than normal, although this difference is often too small for most people to notice.

March's full moon is known by many names, the most common of which is the Worm Moon. "At this time of the year, the ground begins to soften enough for earthworm casts to reappear, inviting robins and other birds to feed-a true sign of spring," The Old Farmer's Almanac explained on its website.

This nickname paired with the supermoon is why some are referring to the full moon in March as the "Super Worm Moon."

2. Morning planets and the moon
When:
March 18

A cluster of planets will gather in the pre-dawn sky during the second half of the month, shining together among a sea of stars in the southeastern sky.

"Mars, Jupiter and Saturn will be as close together as they will be over the next couple of decades," AccuWeather Astronomy Blogger Dave Samuhel said.

The morning of March 18 will be one of the best mornings to wake up before daybreak and look to the sky as the crescent moon will join the planets.

From March 19 through March 31, Mars will gradually glide from appearing next to Jupiter to appearing just below Saturn. This will provide several opportunities for people to see the planets so close to each other through the eyepiece of a telescope.

3. March equinox
When:
March 19

The third week of March will feature the changing of the seasons as winter turns to spring in the Northern Hemisphere and summer fades to autumn in the Southern Hemisphere.

The transition of the seasons will happen at 11:50 p.m. EDT on Thursday, March 19. This is the earliest vernal equinox in the United States since 1896.

The term equinox has Latin roots and derives from the words aequus, meaning "equal," and not meaning "night."

Days will continue to grow longer in the Northern Hemisphere, and shorter in the Southern Hemisphere, until the summer solstice, which occurs on June 20 at 5:43 p.m. EDT.

Looking back at February

One of the top astronomy events of the past month took place before daybreak on Feb. 18 as the Earth, moon and Mars aligned. As a result, Mars "disappeared" behind the moon, an event known as an occultation.

Elsewhere in the night sky, astronomers had their telescopes focused on the massive star Betelgeuse. This is typically one of the brightest stars in the sky, but in recent months has become unusually dim.

NASA Astronaut Christina Koch made international headlines for being part of the first-ever, all-female spacewalk and for setting a new record for the longest single space mission by a woman. Her historic mission came to a conclusion on Feb. 6 when she safely returned to Earth.

During her 328-day mission, Koch completed 5,248 orbits around the Earth, traveled 139 million miles and spent over 42 hours outside of the International Space Station (ISS).

Katherine Johnson, a pioneering mathematician in the early days of the U.S. space program, passed away on Monday, Feb. 24 at the age of 101. Johnson was recognized as an American hero for her hard work as a "human computer" to deduce precise calculations necessary for space flight.

Johnson was depicted in the 2016 movie Hidden Figures and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2018.

Valentine's Day marked the 30th anniversary of the famous NASA image called the "pale blue dot," a photo of Earth taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft in 1990 from a distance of 3.7 billion miles. For the anniversary, NASA re-released the image using modern image-processing software and techniques.

A new mission to study the sun lifted off on Feb. 10 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The Solar Orbiter is a satellite built by the European Space Agency that will study the sun and take high-resolution images of its poles.

Five days later, an Antares rocket launched from Wallops Island, Virginia, to deliver supplies to the ISS. The launch was delayed several times due to both technical issues and poor weather conditions.

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