This Month’s Sky – March 2016


What’s Up in the Sky
AAA Observers’ March Guide
By Tony Faddoul

 

 

March’s Evening Planets:
Jupiter is found between Virgo the Virgin and Leo the Lion all night. Uranus is in Pisces the Fish for about one hour after sunset, and Mercury is in Pisces for an hour after sunset in the last week of March.

March’s Evening Stars:
The Winter Triangle will be up in March until around midnight: Sirius, the brightest star viewed from Earth is in Canis Major the Great Dog, Betelgeuse is in Orion the Hunter, and Procyon is in Canis Minor the Small Dog. Spot Rigel in Orion, Capella in Auriga the Charioteer, Aldeberan in Taurus the Bull, and bright Castor and Pollux in Gemini the Twins. Also find the stars of constellations Cassiopeia, Perseus, Draco, Virgo, Leo, and the and Ursa Major and Ursa Minor (the Big and Little Dippers).

March’s Morning Planets:
Venus will be moving between Capricornus the Sea-goat and Aquarius the Water Bearer, visible for an hour before sunrise. Mars will be moving between Libra the Scales and Scorpio the Scorpion as of midnight and lingering until sunrise. Jupiter can be seen between Virgo and Leo until sunrise. Mercury is in Capricornus for an hour before sunrise in the first week of March. Saturn will be between Scorpio and Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer as of 1 AM until dawn. Neptune is in Aquarius the Water Bearer for about an hour before sunrise in the second half of the month. Dwarf planet Pluto is in Sagittarius the Archer from 4 AM until sunrise.

March’s Morning Stars:
Spot the Summer Triangle of Vega in Lyra the Harp, Deneb in Cygnus the Swan, and Altair in Aquila the Eagle as of 3 AM. Look for reddish Antares in Scorpius, Arcturus in Boötes the Herdsman, and Spica in Virgo, along with the stars of constellations Leo, Hercules, Libra, Sagittarius, Cassiopeia, Corvus, Draco, Ursa Major, and Ursa Minor.

March “Skylights”
Mar 1 Last Quarter Moon at 6:11 PM
Mar 2 Saturn is 4° south of Moon pre-dawn
Mar 7 Venus is 4° south of Moon dawn
Mar 8 Jupiter in opposition, brightest in 2016
Mar 8 New Moon at 8:55 PM
Mar 10 Moon at perigee (223,400 miles away)
Mar 15 First Quarter Moon at 1:03 PM
Mar 20 Vernal Equinox at 12:30 AM
Mar 21 Jupiter 2° north of Moon at midnight
Mar 23 Full Moon at 8:00 AM
Mar 25 Saturn is stationary Moon at apogee (252,350 miles
Mar 31 Last quarter moon at 11:17 AM

By Jove, That’s Bright!
On March 8, Jupiter will be at opposition and also at its closest to Earth – so it will be at its biggest and brightest in the sky for all of 2016.

What is opposition?
A planet is at opposition is when it is lined up with Earth and the Sun, forming a straight line with the Earth in the middle. In other words, Earth will pass between the Sun and Jupiter, leaving Jupiter opposite to the sun in our sky.

How close will Jupiter be?
At the same time that Jupiter passes opposition, it will also be at its closest to Earth. Jupiter orbits the Sun at an average distance of 5.20 AU (Astronomical Units), but on March 8, it will be 4.44 AU from the Sun and 413 million miles, or 664 million kilometers, away from Earth.

Where can I find Jupiter?
Jupiter will be easy to find with the naked eye, shining at -2.5 magnitude. Only nearby Venus and the Moon can outshine the gas giant in our night sky. Jupiter will be visible all night in the constellation Leo the Lion. It will rise in the east around sunset, reach its highest in the sky around midnight, and set in the west before sunrise. Venus doesn’t appear in the sky until just an hour before sunrise, so Jupiter will be the brightest object, aside from the Moon, for most of the night.
You don’t need any equipment to see Jupiter. However, a small telescope or a good pair of binoculars can help you resolve the gas giant and the four largest Jovian moons.

How did Jupiter get its name?
The largest planet in our Solar System is named for Jupiter, the king of the gods in Roman mythology. He was known to the Ancient Greeks as Zeus, to the Phoenicians as Baal Hadad, and to the Babylonians as Marduk.

timeanddate.com; space.com; Encyclopedia Britannica.