STAR TRAK for March: Saturn at its brightest for the year

March 2, 2010
Saturn. Photo courtesy of NASA

Saturn will be opposite the sun in our sky on March 21, when it will be closest to Earth in its orbit. Rising in the east at sunset, appearing highest in the south around midnight and setting in the west at dawn, Saturn will be easily visible almost all night during March as it crosses the southern sky, glowing bright yellow among the stars of the constellation Virgo.

An event called the Globe at Night star count, now in its fifth year, has drawn thousands of participants worldwide. This year's count will run from March 3 to March 16 (www.globe.gov/GaN). The purpose is to get the public excited about what can be seen in the night sky -- but to emphasize that many of these celestial sights are being lost to light pollution.

Planets

Saturn will be opposite the sun in our sky on March 21, when it will be closest to Earth in its orbit. It will rise in the east at sunset, appear highest in the south around midnight and set in the west at dawn. Saturn will be easily visible almost all night during March as it crosses the southern sky, glowing bright yellow among the stars of the constellation Virgo. Its rings will be tilted 3 degrees to our line of sight.

Saturn has at least 60 moons, and the largest one, the planet-sized Titan, can be seen with any telescope. For the best telescopic views, wait until Saturn is at least a third of the way up the sky, above most of the turbulence near the horizon. See http://saturn.jpl..gov/home/index.cfm for the latest news and images from the orbiting .

Mars will appear high in the southeast as evening twilight fades during March, conspicuous in the constellation Cancer the Crab.

Venus will shine low in the west as the evening sky darkens during March. It will be a little higher each night, but its brightness will remain about the same all month.

Mercury will pass behind the sun on March 14. By month's end, it will be barely visible below Venus very low in the west a half hour after sunset.

Jupiter will be out of sight on the far side of the sun during March.

Occultation

On the night of March 20-21, the will cross the southern part of the Pleiades star cluster, blocking several of its stars. Binoculars will offer the best view of this conjunction.

Equinox

The sun will cross the celestial equator (an extension of Earth's equator onto the ) on March 20 at 1:32 p.m. EDT (17:32 Universal Time) heading north. This will mark the start of spring in the and fall 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 aa.usno.navy.mil/faq/docs/equinoxes.php .

Moon phases

The moon will be at third quarter on March 7, new on March 15, at first quarter on March 23 and full on March 29.

Explore further: Saturn dominates during March, while Jupiter moves onto the stage

Related Stories

STAR TRAK for February: Mars puts on its best show

February 1, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Mars will be at its highest and brightest for the year during February, coming into view in the east as evening twilight fades. The red planet was closest to Earth in its orbit on Jan. 27, and it will remain ...

Saturn dominates the night sky in January

January 4, 2007

The highlight of January will be the planet Saturn, which will rise in the east around 8 p.m. local time at the start of the month and two hours earlier by month's end. The planet with the famous rings will be almost at its ...

The moon meets the Pleiades in April

March 31, 2008

The Pleiades star cluster will have a beautiful encounter with the slender moon in the western sky after sunset on April 8. Usually the moon's brightness overpowers nearby stars, but not when it's such a thin crescent. Binoculars ...

December offers meteor shower and cluster of three planets

November 29, 2006

The Geminid meteor shower is usually the best of the year, but it tends to take a back seat to the Perseid shower of August. The Perseids have the advantage of a pleasant summer night, while the Geminids have a major problem ...

Recommended for you

Giant radio flare of Cygnus X-3 detected by astronomers

December 7, 2016

(Phys.org)—Russian astronomers have recently observed a giant radio flare from a strong X-ray binary source known as Cygnus X-3 (Cyg X-3 for short). The flare occurred after more than five years of quiescence of this source. ...

Dark matter may be smoother than expected

December 7, 2016

Analysis of a giant new galaxy survey, made with ESO's VLT Survey Telescope in Chile, suggests that dark matter may be less dense and more smoothly distributed throughout space than previously thought. An international team ...

Cassini transmits first images from new orbit

December 7, 2016

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has sent to Earth its first views of Saturn's atmosphere since beginning the latest phase of its mission. The new images show scenes from high above Saturn's northern hemisphere, including the planet's ...

New evidence for a warmer and wetter early Mars

December 7, 2016

A recent study from ESA's Mars Express and NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) provides new evidence for a warm young Mars that hosted water across a geologically long timescale, rather than in short episodic bursts ...

ExoMars orbiter images Phobos

December 7, 2016

The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter has imaged the martian moon Phobos as part of a second set of test science measurements made since it arrived at the Red Planet on 19 October.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.