2023, March 26: Mars Marches into Gemini

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March 26, 2023: Mars moves into Gemini this evening at the foot of Castor.  Jupiter leaves the evening sky as Mercury enters.

Photo Caption – NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope photographed Mars on July 18, 2018, during a dust storm and near its closest approach to Earth since 2003. (NASA photo)

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by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Chicago, Illinois:  Sunrise, 6:44 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 7:09 p.m. CDT.  Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.  Times are calculated by the U.S. Naval Observatory’s MICA computer program.

Here is today’s planet forecast:

Morning Sky

Saturn rises nearly 70 minutes before sunrise.  About 25 minutes later, the planet is nearly 4° above the east-southeast horizon.  Find it with a binocular.

Evening Sky

Chart Caption – 2023, March 26: Jupiter and Mercury appear in a binocular’s field of view after sundown.

Mercury approaches Jupiter after sundown.  This occurs in bright twilight and an optical assist is needed to see it with the Jovian Giant. At thirty minutes after sundown, bright Jupiter is about 5° above the western horizon, with Mercury 2.4° to its lower right. This is a challenging observation.  Find a cloud-free, unobstructed view toward the western sky. 

Chart Caption – 2023, March 26: Venus and Hamal are in the western sky after sundown.

Fifteen minutes later, Venus is about 25° above the western horizon.  It is stepping eastward in front of Aries, 10.2° to the left of Hamal, the constellation’s brightest star, although it is about the brightness of the stars in the Big Dipper.

Chart Caption – 2023, March 26: Venus and Uranus through a binocular after sundown.

Venus and Uranus are in the same binocular field of view.  The Evening Star passes the distant planet in four nights.

Uranus is near the limit of human eye sight and can be seen without an optical assist when spotted in a very dark sky, away from the persistent intrusion from outdoor lighting. As the moon brightens further each night, its light whitewashes the sky from dimmer celestial sights.  Look for Uranus on the next clear evening about 90 minutes after sunset, around twilight’s last gleaming.  This evening, the aquamarine planet is 4.5° to the upper left of Venus.

In the binocular field of view, place Venus toward the lower right edge of the field, the planet is to the upper left.

Chart Caption – 2023, March 26: The moon is near Aldebaran and Mars is near Propus after sundown.

The waxing crescent moon, 30% illuminated, is over halfway up in the sky in the south-southwest.  It is 8.8° to the upper right of Aldebaran and 12.1° to the upper left of the Pleiades star cluster.

At this phase, the moon is still showing some earthshine, sunlight reflected from Earth’s features that gently illuminates the lunar night.  Look carefully on the ground around you.  Moonshine is casting your shadow.  Sunlight is reflected from the moon and brightens the terrestrial features.  This effect increases through the moon’s Full moon phase, ending after the Last Quarter phase.

Mars marches into Gemini this evening, 4.2° to the right of Propus, Castor’s toe.  The Red Planet entered Taurus on August 9, 2022, appearing near the Pleiades star cluster.  The planet began to retrograde at the end of October; appeared at opposition on December 7th; and finished retrograding during mid-January.  It crossed the Taurus-Gemini boundary and appears in front of the Twins’ stars through May 16th.  On that evening, Mars is less than 20° to the upper left of Venus.  It appears that Venus may catch Mars.

At one hour after sundown, Mars is high in the south-southwest.  The planet is dimmer than Capella, to its right, and Aldebaran, to its lower right, although it is brighter than Castor and Pollux.

Chart Caption – 2023, March 26: Through a binocular Mars and Propus appear with the star cluster Messier 35 (M 35).

Through a binocular, Mars and Propus bookend the star cluster Messier 35.  The stellar bundle is dimmer than the stars in the Pleiades star cluster in Taurus because it is farther away.  With the moon waxing and moving toward this region, the cluster becomes somewhat more difficult to see.

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