Spring Moon Points to Planets
Four planets will form a gigantic diagonal line across the sky after sunset in March. Locate the planets this month and then take note how they will seem to move closer in relation to each other. The moon will help point out the planets to the casual stargazer. During March, advance preparations are being made for a splendid meeting of five planets occurring in late April and early May.
On Monday, March 18, the moon sits 10 degrees (a fist wide) to the upper left of Mars. The silver moon, in its waxing crescent phase, won't compete with the dim red planet.
Look in the direction of the moon again on Tuesday, March 19 to find Saturn shining with a yellow hue. Luna approaches Saturn tonight 5 degrees (10 moon diameters) to the planet's lower right. Saturn's rings are still a fine sight to behold with the help of a telescope. The Pleiades star cluster will appear to the right of Saturn. Aldebaran, a bright orange star, is found close by on Saturn's left.
Spring officially begins on Wednesday, March 20 at 2:16 p.m. EST. The March equinox marks the beginning of days that will be longer than the nights. The sun passes from the Southern Hemisphere to the northern. The good news for those of us living in the Waynedale area is that we will experience additional sunlight and heat. The first moon of spring will be situated 8 degrees (a fist) to the upper left of Saturn and 19 degrees to the lower right of Jupiter.
The moon is in line with the Gemini Twin stars on Saturday, March 23. Pollux, the brighter twin, is 6 degrees (12 moon diameters) to the upper right of the moon. Castor, the other twin, is another 5 degrees to the upper right of Pollux. Set your binoculars on the moon and try to detect the crater Copernicus. This magnificent crater will appear as a bright spot near the left edge and just above the center of the nearly half moon.
Even if you don't use the moon as a spotter for the planets, here is another way to locate the planets after sunset. Start by finding Jupiter very high in the south. It is the first point of light visible at sunset. To the right is yellow Saturn. A dimmer orange Mars is next in line. Bright Venus is last in line. To find Venus, look just above the western horizon after sunset. All this spring, Venus will climb higher in the western night sky. Venus will be become a beautiful "evening star" by summer.
The longer, warmer spring evenings are out there waiting for the "really big planet show" to appear. Use the upcoming weeks to get a sneak preview of this event. Go to your favorite dark sky place and enjoy the view. Happy Stargazing!