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Star Trak: March 2020

For immediate release: March 1, 2020

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Venus will be high in the western evening sky throughout March, reaching its peak on March 24 and setting more than four hours after the sun. If you rise before dawn, look for three bright planets -- Mars, Jupiter and Saturn -- gleaming close together in the southeastern sky.

Venus will have the best evening appearance of its eight-year cycle in March. It will end the month just a few degrees below the lovely Pleiades star cluster, and the two will have an extremely close encounter in April.

Mars, Jupiter and Saturn will put on a show all month as Mars speeds past both of the giant planets in its much smaller orbit. Seen from mid-northern latitudes, all three will be above the southeastern horizon between 5:30 a.m. and 6:15 a.m. local daylight time every morning in March. Mars will pass less than 1 degree south-southeast of much more brilliant Jupiter on March 20, when both will be visible in the same field of view of a telescope.

As Mars crosses the gap between Jupiter and Saturn, observers can enjoy the spectacle of three bright planets in a line only 7 degrees long. Finally, Mars will have a conjunction with Saturn on March 31, when the two will be about 1 degree apart. They will be almost the same brightness, with red-orange Mars contrasting nicely with yellow Saturn. Saturn's largest moon, the planet-sized Titan, can be seen with any telescope.

Mercury will come into view in the morning sky in mid-March, remaining at a low altitude for the rest of the month. Rising an hour before the sun on March 10, it will be 7 degrees above the eastern horizon by 7 a.m. local daylight time. A good opportunity to spot the innermost planet will be March 21, when the nearby crescent moon can be used as a marker.

Equinox

Spring EquinoxSpring Equinox
Photo Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

The sun will cross the celestial equator (an extension of Earth's equator onto the sky) at 11:50 p.m. EDT March 19 heading north. This will mark the start of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and autumn in the Southern Hemisphere. For the next six months in the Northern Hemisphere, the days will be longer than the nights.

Day and night are not precisely the same length at the time of the equinox. That happens on different dates for different latitudes. At higher latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere, the date of equal day and night occurs before the March equinox. In the Southern Hemisphere, this happens after the March equinox. Information about the exact time of the equinox at different places on Earth's surface is provided by the U.S. Naval Observatory.

Moon phases

The moon will be at first quarter on March 2, full on March 9, at third quarter on March 16 and new on March 24.

Author: Hal Kibbey Email: hkibbey [at] gmail.com

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