Indiana University
Campus People  |  

Star Trak: March 2021

For immediate release: March 1, 2021

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Mars will be the first planet to come into view after sunset during March. The successful landing of the rover Perseverance on the Red Planet is drawing a lot of attention. As the month begins, Mars will appear close to the Pleiades star cluster in the constellation Taurus. Joining the red-orange planet there will be the red giant star Aldebaran.

Mars will slowly drift eastward as the month passes, and during the third week it will pass north of the Hyades star cluster. Mars will be a small object in telescopes, so even at an elevation of 50 degrees soon after dusk, the visibility of its surface features will be much affected by turbulence in our atmosphere.

Most of the planetary activity will be in the predawn sky, with three planets -- Jupiter, Saturn and Mercury -- vying for position all month. Saturn will be the first to appear, rising above the southeastern horizon around 5:10 a.m. local time on March 1 as morning twilight begins. Mercury will follow 15 minutes later, and Jupiter a few minutes after that. Jupiter will easily outshine the other two planets. Each morning the three will change positions with each other.

Mercury and Jupiter will have a close encounter in daylight on March 11, but the mornings before and after will offer fine chances to view the pair. On March 5 they will be separated by only 0.4 degrees.

By the end of the month Saturn and Jupiter will be easy to spot low in the southeast. Saturn will rise around 4:20 a.m. local time on March 31, with Jupiter trailing a half hour later. Both planets will be below 15 degrees altitude as morning twilight begins, a difficult location for telescopes. Both will be easier to see next month.

Venus will not be visible in March as it passes behind the sun.

Equinox

The sun will cross the celestial equator (an extension of Earth's equator onto the sky) at 5:37 a.m. EDT March 20 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 third quarter on March 5, new on March 13, at third quarter on March 21, and full on March 28.

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

Past Star Trak Issues