Mars, in eastern Aries, is nearly starting its March through Taurus. Mars is the lone planet in the evening sky. This evening, with a bright sky from a very gibbous moon, Mars is nearly 10 degrees below the Pleiades star cluster. It passes the Pleiades later in the month. With a binocular, investigate the two star clusters — Pleiades and Hyades — and track Mars as it moves against the distant star field.
After passing Jupiter and Saturn late in March, the thin waning crescent moon appears near Venus on April 1. Locate a clear east-southeast horizon and look about 45 minutes before sunrise. This is during mid-twilight when the sky is brightening, but brilliant Venus is easily found. It is low in the sky, only 4° up in the sky, Venus is nearly 9° to the left of the waning crescent moon that is only 14% illuminated and just a few days before the moon reaches its New phase.
More about the morning planets:
During late March, the moon glides past morning planets Jupiter and Saturn. The chart above shows the scene about 45 minutes before sunrise. Check your newspaper, television weather, or Internet source for the time of your local sunrise. These observations are not time sensitive because the moon and planets are higher in the sky than earlier in the year.
Step outside before sunrise and look south. Bright Jupiter is there about one-third of the way up in the sky. Saturn is about 25° to the lower left of Jupiter. Here’s what to look for:
- March 26: This morning, the waning gibbous moon that is 68% illuminated is nearly 9° to the upper right of bright Jupiter
- March 27: This morning. the nearly last quarter moon that is nearly 60% illuminated is over 4° to the left of Jupiter. Notice the distance that the moon moved from yesterday. With a binocular notice that the day-night line (terminator) on the moon is slightly convex – bowed outward.
- March 28: At the beginning of morning twilight, the thick crescent moon that is 48% illuminated, 19° up in the south-southeast, is 9° to the right of Saturn. This morning the terminator is slightly concave – bowed in.
- March 29: This morning, the moon that is 38% illuminated, 14° up in the southeast, is about 3° to the lower left of Saturn. Notice the amount the moon phase shrank during these mornings.
Look for the moon and Venus on April 1.
More about measurements. Degrees (°) are used in astronomy to measure separation of celestial objects and sizes of objects as they appear to us, not their real sizes, their apparent sizes. One-half degree is the apparent size of the moon. The next time you see the moon in the sky, extend your arm and then your pointer finger. The tip of the finger, with the finger nail, covers the moon. Your fist extended toward the sky covers about 10°. So, on March 26, the distance between the moon and Jupiter is about the distance across your fist. The next morning about three knuckles is the distance between the moon and Jupiter.
More about the morning planets:
- Venus in the Morning Sky, 2018-2019
- 2018-2019: Jupiter Dances With the Snake Handler
- 2019: Saturn’s Year in Sagittarius
Venus and Mercury appear near each other on mid-April. There is no conjunction as Mercury does not pass Venus. Mercury moves faster and, typically, its motion causes the two to pass each other. During this event, the two planets do not pass each other but they move within 5° of each other. This event is know as a quasi-conjunction.
Mercury is in a very unfavorable apparition to observe. It appears very low in the east at Civil Twilight, about 30 minutes before sunrise, when the sun is 6° below the horizon. During this appearance this speedy planet does not rise before Nautical Twilight – which occurs about an hour before sunrise; so Mercury visible in a very bright sky, near the horizon. At its greatest elongation, it is only 4° in altitude. Find a clear horizon and use a binocular. First locate Venus then look through your binocular to locate this elusive planet.
The Venus-Mercury gaps:
April 13: 4.5°
April 14: 4.4°
April 15: 4.4°
April 16: 4.3°
April 17: 4.3°
April 18: 4.3°
April 19: 4.4°
April 20: 4.5°
On these mornings, it’s possible to see four planets in the morning sky — Mercury, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn — although a binocular may be needed to locate Saturn. The Ringed Wonder is low in the southern sky, less than one-third of the way up in the sky. Jupiter is farther west, to the right of the south direction, at about the same height as Saturn above the horizon.
More about the morning planets:
This evening, the crescent moon (overexposed on the image, is about 7.5 degrees to the left of Mars. Tomorrow evening the moon is between the Pleiades and the Hyades star clusters. Take a look with a binocular.
The star clusters are considered part of Taurus. The Pleiades resemble a tiny dipper. Through a binocular you can see a dozen or so stars. The Hyades are to the left of the Pleiades. They make a “check mark” shape. When Aldebaran is included, the patter resembles a letter “V,” the face of the Bull. Aldebaran could be considered its fiery red eye. Zeta Tauri and Elnath are considered to be the bull’s horns.
Watch Mars move closer to Pleiades as the month progresses. It passes them late in the month.
In focus, the moon is 5.4 days old and displaying a crescent phase that is 25% illuminated.
The flagship of winter constellations is Orion, with its bright stars Betelgeuse and Rigel, appears in the southern sky during early evening hours. With a binocular look below the three stars, Orion’s belt, toward Rigel. The region has a hazy cloud, the Orion Nebula, where stars are forming. Betelgeuse, along with Sirius, the Dog Star, and Procyon, the Little Dog Star, make an equilateral triangle known as the Winter Triangle. Take a look at them through your binocular and you can see some interesting contrasts of star color.
Late in March, step outside about 90 minutes after sunset. (Check the sunset time for your location.) Orion is less than halfway up in the southwest. Taurus, with its star clusters — the Pleiades and Hyades — are farther to the right (north) of Orion. With the yellow-orange star Aldebaran, the stars of the Hyades make a letter “V.” The Pleiades, a cluster of bluish stars that resemble a miniature dipper, are farther to the right. This tiny cluster may have initially caught your attention out of the corner of your eye, as you first looked up. Take a look with binoculars, as a telescope has too much magnification to take in all the Pleiades or Hyades. In the Pleiades you may see a few dozen stars though your binoc. The stars are vivid blue, indicating blazing high temperatures.
Mars, an orangish looking bright “star,” is to the lower left of the Pleiades cluster. Each night Mars moves closer to the cluster, and passes closest on March 30. Take a look each night to see Mars’ movement through space compared to the starry background.
We are referencing the cluster’s bright star, Alcyone, in the measurements.
One degree is the twice the size the full moon appears in the sky.
Watch Mars move closer and then past the cluster as the month closes.
- March 25: Mars is 4.9° to the lower left of Alcyone.
- March 26: Mars is 4.3° to the lower left of Alcyone.
- March 27: Mars is 3.9° to the lower left of Alcyone.
- March 28: Mars is 3.6° to the lower left of Alcyone.
- March 29: Mars is 3.3° to the lower left of Alcyone.
- March 30: Mars passes 3.1° to the lower left of Alcyone and the Pleiades, a beautiful view through a binocular.
- March 31: Mars is 3.2° to the lower left of Alcyone. Tonight Mars is nearly the same distance as last night and slightly higher in the sky.
- On March 12, at the end of evening twilight, look for the moon (6.4 days old, 35% illuminated) 5.5° to the lower right of Aldebaran (α Tau, m = 0.8), almost between the Hyades and the Pleiades. While the entire Hyades cluster may not fit into a binocular field with the lunar crescent, take a look with the lowest optical power in your inventory to see the nice view. At the same time Mars is 36° up in the west, about 12° below the Pleiades.