2021, March 1: Morning Planet Trio, Evening Mars Near Pleiades

2021, March 1: Before the morning becomes too bright, find the gibbous moon near Porrima.
2021, March 1: Before the morning becomes too bright, find the gibbous moon near Porrima.

March 1, 2021: The gibbous moon is in the southwest before sunrise.  Jupiter, Mercury, and Saturn are in the east-southeast during bright morning twilight.  Jupiter opens a widening gap to Saturn.  During the evening, Mars in Taurus, is approaching the Pleiades star cluster.

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Chicago, Illinois:  Sunrise, 6:25 a.m. CST; Sunset, 5:41 p.m. CST.  Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.

Morning Sky

This morning the bright gibbous moon is in the southwest before sunrise, in front of the stars of Virgo.  On the chart above, the lunar orb looks very close to Porrima (Gamma Virginis, γ Vir), although the moon is oversized.  The moon is 1.3° to the upper right of the star.  The blue star Virgo is to the east (left) of the moon.  The moon is near Spica tomorrow morning.

2021, March 1: Thirty minutes before sunrise Jupiter, Mercury, and Saturn are low in the east-southeast.
2021, March 1: Thirty minutes before sunrise Jupiter, Mercury, and Saturn are low in the east-southeast.

As the sky brightens three planets – Saturn, Mercury and Jupiter – are low in the east-southeastern sky.  Jupiter is the brightest, but appears lowest this morning.  Saturn is visible about 45 minutes before sunrise, but you’ll need a binocular to see all three of them 15 minutes later.

The gap between Jupiter and Saturn has grown to over 8° after their close conjunction on December 21, 2020.  Jupiter moves away from Saturn during the month, growing the space between them by 3° of additional space.

Evening Sky

2021, March 1: Mars approaches the Pleiades star cluster in the constellation Taurus.
2021, March 1: Mars approaches the Pleiades star cluster in the constellation Taurus.

Mars is the lone bright planet in the evening sky.  It is stepping eastward in front of the stars of Taurus.  It is approaching the Pleiades for a conjunction in three evenings with the cluster’s brightest star, Alcyone.

The Pleiades cluster is made of dimmer stars, but together they catch your eye.

Begin looking for Mars and the Pleiades, high in the southwest about an hour after sunset. They appear together until they set around midnight.  There’s plenty of time to catch them after nightfall before they are too low in the western sky.

Find your binocular as the constellation has many stars, dim and bright, that can be used to track the path of Mars.

If you’re outside about 4 hours after sunset, the bright moon is low in the east-southeast.

Here’s more about Mars during 2021.

Read about Mars during March.

Detailed Note: One hour before sunrise, the moon (17.7 days after the New Moon phase, 94% illuminated) is less than one third of the way up in the sky above the west-southwest horizon.  The lunar orb is 1.3° to the upper right of Porrima (γ Vir, m = 3.4). Three planets are emerging from the bright sunlight.  Forty-five minutes before sunrise, Saturn (m = 0.7) is over 5° up in the east-southeast.  It is 6.0° to the upper right of Mercury (m = 0.1), although the speedy planet is 3° above the horizon.  Fifteen minutes later, Jupiter (m = −2.0) – 8.1° of ecliptic longitude east of Saturn – is nearly 4° in altitude.  Use a binocular to locate Mercury 2.4° to the Giant Planet’s upper right. The sun is in the sky for a several minutes longer than 11 hours.  Darkness – the time between the end of evening twilight and the beginning of morning twilight – is 9 hours, 39 minutes. One hour after sunset, Mars (m = 0.9) is over two-thirds of the way up in the sky above the southwest horizon. During the month, the planet marches 17.7° eastward.  The Red Planet is 3.0° to the lower left of Alcyone (η Tau, m = 2.8), the brightest star in the Pleiades star cluster.  Use a binocular to observe Mars with the cluster.  Notice that the planet is 1.5° to the upper right of 13 Tauri (13 Tau, m = 5.6). Four hours after sunset (about 9:45 p.m. CST), the moon (18.4d, 89%) is less than 10° above the east-southeastern horizon. At 11:18 p.m. CST, the moon is at perigee, 227,086.8 miles away

Read more about the planets during March 2021.

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