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The only bright planet visible in the evening sky, watch for it in the early evening
This column starts a new venture for me.
First of all, I will be writing a bi-weekly astronomy column from now on. Second, the columns will be appearing in a number of newspapers through Atlantic Canada. And third, this has necessitated a name change for the column, to Atlantic Skies, since I will now be providing information on the night sky for readers throughout Atlantic Canada, not just Prince Edward Island.
To my Island readers, thank you for allowing me to share my love and wonder of the night sky all these years. I hope you will continue to read and enjoy the columns. To my new readers, I bid you welcome. I look forward to providing you with information about the celestial wonders of the night (and sometimes day) sky and that such information will encourage you to get out under the stars and get to know its beauty. Feel free to contact me at the email address at the end of the column, if you have any questions about anything you see in the night sky where you live. I will do my best to answer your queries.
Mars, the only bright (approximate mag. +1.0) planet visible in the evening sky this month, is clearly visible approximately half-way up the southwest sky in the constellation of Sagittarius - the Archer, about an hour after sunset. Look for the waxing, crescent moon to the upper left of Mars on the evening of March 11; they will set together around midnight.
Almost directly above Mars in the evening sky is the beautiful, open star-cluster of the Pleiades ("The Seven Sisters"), visible in binoculars.
Jupiter, our solar system's largest planet, is next up, rising around 2 a.m. during the early part of the month. It will brighten slightly from mag. -2.0 to -2.3 (negative numbers indicate a brighter value than a positive number). Look for Jupiter to the right of the "teapot" asterism (a picture within a picture) in the Sagittarius constellation about 45 minutes before sunrise on March 16. Saturn will sit on the left side of the "teapot".
Majestic Saturn follows Jupiter into the SSE, pre-dawn sky about 2 hours later and joins Jupiter in Sagittarius by mid-month. Saturn remains at its minimum brightness (mag. +0.6) throughout March. With its magnificent rings still tilted favourably (24 degrees) towards Earth, it is a beautiful night-sky object to view in a telescope.
As the eastern sky begins to brighten, Venus, the brightest object in the sky after the sun and moon, rises in the SE about two hours before the sun. Though this bright planet fades slightly from mag. -4.1 to -3.9, it's illuminated portion actually increase from 72 per cent to 81 per cent. Venus will continue to drop lower in the pre-dawn sky each morning.
Look for Venus, Saturn and Jupiter to form a shallow arc across the SE - S (1/4 of the horizon) in the pre-dawn sky during the first half of March. Venus is to the far left, with Saturn to its right (in the middle) and Jupiter to the far right. The reddish star to the lower right of Jupiter is the bright star Antares ("Rival of Mars") in the constellation of Scorpius - the Scorpion.
Don't forget to set your clocks ahead ("spring ahead") one hour to Daylight Saving Time at 2 a.m. on Sunday, March 10.
Until next time, clear skies.
- March 6 - New moon
- March 10 - Daylight Saving Time begins, 2 a.m.
- March 14 - First quarter moon
- March 19 - Moon at perigee (closest to Earth)
Glenn K. Roberts lives in Stratford, P.E.I., and has been an avid amateur astronomer since he was a small child. His column appears in The Guardian every two weeks. He welcomes comments from readers at email@example.com.