Vernal Equinox

There is a quickening as we near the Vernal Equinox and the beginning of spring on March 20. We now have twelve hours of sunlight, three more than we had back on the Winter Solstice. Sunrises are an hour and a half earlier and sunsets are an hour and a half later. And you may be noticing that there are three more minutes of sunlight every day in March. Even the sunrises and sunsets are speeding up. Back on the solstice, it took three and a half minutes for the disk of the Sun to disappear below the horizon. On the equinox, there is just three minutes from when the Sun first touches the horizon until it disappears from view.

March begins with a beautiful sight in the western sky soon after sunset. On March 1, Jupiter and Venus will be brilliant and side by side just a Moon’s width apart. Venus is much brighter and on the right. There’s plenty of time to see them in the twilight sky before they set around 8:30pm. They only appear close together because of where they are in their orbits. Watch the rest of the month as they slowly drift apart with Jupiter moving closer to the Sun and becoming more challenging to see. A Crescent Moon passes by Jupiter and Venus on March 23 and 24. On March 26-28, you may be able to glimpse Mercury passing by to the right of Jupiter low in the west after sunset. On March 27 and 28, the Moon is waxing to First Quarter as it passes by reddish Mars high in the south at twilight.

Spring arrives on March 20 at 4:26pm (CDT). You can see the last sunset of winter Sunday evening around 7:10 pm. The first sunrise of spring is Tuesday morning around 7:00 am. Hope you enjoy the quickening!

John Heasley is an astronomy educator and stargazer who enjoys connecting people with the cosmos. He volunteers with NASA/JPL as a Solar System Ambassador , with the International Dark-Sky Association as an Advocate, and the International Astronomical Union as a Dark Sky Ambassador. For more information about stargazing in southwest WI, like Driftless Stargazing LLC on Facebook and find out whenever there’s something awesome happening in the skies.

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