Looking Up March 2012

Daylight Savings Time starts March 11.  Spring Equinox occurs March 20 at 05:14 UT (1:14 am EDT).  The Moon is Full on March 8, and New on March 22.

The evening sky is dominated by the constellations Orion and Canis Major (the Big Dog) towards the south, and by planets Venus and Jupiter, shining high and bright above the south western horizon at sunset; Venus is the brighter of the two.  Early in the month, Jupiter is higher above the horizon than Venus; on March 12, the two will be only 3 degrees apart, and will set at the same time, about 11 pm;  after the 12th, Jupiter and Venus appear to move apart, and Venus is higher in the sky than Jupiter.  On March 25-26 the young Moon passes near both planets, which should be a pretty sight.

Mars rises in the east around sunset and will be visible all night, shining almost as brightly as the star Sirius in the constellation Canis Major.  Mars reaches opposition on March 3; because Mars is near aphelion, its apparent size is relatively small, less than 14 arc-seconds at best.  Mars is in the middle of its northern hemisphere summer, so the North polar cap will be visible through a moderately sized telescope.

Saturn rises after 10 pm by the end of the month, and isn’t well placed for viewing until midnight.  Early in the month both Saturn and Mars are visible above the western horizon in the morning before sun rise.

Helen Hart, 17 Feb. 2012;  references:  Starry Night planetarium program, USNO Astronomical Data Services.

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