The podcast player shown above for the month of March 2011 is from Abrams Planetarium.
March is a month of rapid change. Weather shuffles from the depths of winter into the promises of May. This year the Moon and planets provide interesting views during the early evening and early morning.
Early in the month, Jupiter, Mercury, and the moon appear in the western sky after sunset. The moon will appear as a very thin crescent. As the diagram above shows, the moon, just 46 hours past its new phase, and Jupiter make an interesting display during twilight on March 6 with elusive Mercury much lower and near the horizon. Houses, trees and other terrestrial features will block a view of Mercury. Binoculars will help locate it from a spot with a clear horizon. The accompanying chart shows the trio at 6:15 p.m.
Mercury is difficult to view, although twice each year in our planet’s celestial orbit, we can get an optimal view of the planet. During spring evenings and autumn mornings, we have an excellent view of the solar system objects that are near the sun. Because of Mercury’s solar proximity, it always sets before the sky completely darkens. During spring and autumn the solar system is oriented so that Mercury sets later than average or rises sooner than its average time, making it best viewed if it is appropriately placed in its orbit.
As the days of March step forward, watch Mercury climb higher in the sky each evening at 6:15 p.m. (Remember that Daylight Saving Time begins March 13. Beginning on that date the times will advance one hour.) By March 15, Jupiter and Mercury appear near each other at 7:30 p.m. (See the diagram above.) Mercury will continue to climb higher for another week and then rapidly dim and disappear into the sun’s bright glare by month’s end.