BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Brilliant white Jupiter will dominate the eastern sky after sunset in March, lying among the stars of the faint constellation Cancer the Crab. By month's end it will be 5 degrees east of Cancer's finest sight, the Beehive star cluster. The best time for viewing Jupiter through a telescope will be when it is high in the southern sky during late evening.
Venus will glow prominently in the west after sunset about 15 degrees above the horizon, appearing a little higher each evening. It will take longer for pale orange Mars to become visible 4 degrees below Venus, since Mars will be only about 1 percent as bright. The gap between the two will increase each week as Mars sinks lower into the twilight.
Saturn will rise around midnight local time all month and glow bright yellow in the southeast among the stars of the constellation Scorpius. It will be highest in the south around the start of morning twilight, offering the best telescopic views. Its rings will be tilted 25 degrees to our line of sight during March.
Saturn's largest moon, the planet-sized Titan, can be seen with any telescope. Titan will be due north of Saturn on March 1 and 17 and due south of the planet on March 9 and 25. See http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/home/index.cfm
for the latest news and images from the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn.
Mercury will scrape the east-southeastern horizon early in the month, nearly hidden from view.
The sun will cross the celestial equator (an extension of Earth's equator onto the sky) on March 20 at 6:45 p.m. EDT (22:45 Universal Time) 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 at http://aa.usno.navy.mil/faq/docs/equinoxes.php
If you live in an area that is dark enough for you to see the Milky Way sprawling across the night sky, you also have a chance of seeing the interplanetary dust in the plane of our solar system. Moonless evenings in March are the best time to see this dust. As darkness falls, look for a faint pyramid of light spreading upward from the western horizon over a large area of the sky. This is the zodiacal light, which is sunlight reflected from trillions of dust particles left behind in space by comets and asteroids that orbit the sun in the same plane as the planets. Observers at mid-northern latitudes may be able to see the zodiacal light after evening twilight ends from March 8 to 21. An example can be seen at http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/97/Zodiacal_Light_Seen_from_Paranal.jpg
The moon will be full on March 5, at third quarter on March 13, new on March 20 and at first quarter on March 27.
Hal Kibbey is a science writer recently retired from the IU Office of Media Relations, where he covered the Department of Astronomy and is an amateur astronomer. You can reach Hal by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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