Here’s a view from the Chicago area at 7:50 p.m. CDT on March 13, 2012. Jupiter now appears below Venus and continues to get lower in the western sky until it disappears into the sun’s glare later in the spring. Read our March 2012 skywatching guide here.
Venus and Jupiter are closest this evening. This digital image was made at 7:45 p.m. CDT. Each night the pair will separate with Jupiter appearing lower in sky. Read our March skywatching guide here.
The sky is expected to be cloudy and rainy in the Chicago area this evening. This simulated view of Venus and Jupiter is for 7:45 p.m. CDT in the Chicago area. For other locations in mid-latitudes in the northern hemisphere, look west at about one hour after sunset for these two bright planets. Monday, the planets will be about 3 degrees apart, about 6 full moon diameters. Although they appear close together on our sky, they are millions of miles apart in the solar system. For more details, see the monthly update here.
Venus and Jupiter appear closer this evening. Beginning tomorrow, look one hour later because of Daylight Saving Time. For more information, see this month’s description of the planets.
The image above shows Venus and Jupiter at 6:25 p.m. CST on March 9, 2012. Watch the two get closer to each other during the next few nights. For more details see this month’s skywatching update.
Jupiter and Venus shine brightly this evening from the western sky in this digital photo taken from my backyard. Watch the two planets pass each other during the next few evenings. See this month’s skywatching guide for more details.
Full Moon — 3/8
Last Quarter — 3/14
New Moon — 3/22
First Quarter — 3/30
Daylight Saving Time begins for most states in the U.S. on March 11 at 2 a.m. local time. Advance clocks 1 hour.
The Vernal Equinox occurs on March 20 at 12:14 a.m. CDT, signalling the beginning of Spring. Daylight increases for three months until late June. At this time, the sun appears directly above the equator, meaning that individuals living at the equator have the sun appear directly overhead. The sun does not appear directly overhead from the Chicago area.
The month opens with the spectacular Venus-Jupiter gathering in the western sky, just after sunset. With binoculars and a clear horizon, locate Mercury low in the sky early in the month.
By mid-month, Jupiter and Venus appear close together. While millions of miles apart, the two planets appear about 3 degrees (six full moons) apart. The chart above shows the pair on March 12, one of the nights they appear closest. Notice the view is one hour later as daylight saving time (advance your clock one hour) on March 11.
The animation above shows Venus and Jupiter each night during March 2012 in the early evening sky. Watch to two planets appear to converge then separate.
March 24: The waxing crescent moon appears below Jupiter and Venus, near the western horizon.
March 25: Jupiter and the moon are paired nicely, with the moon appearing slightly higher and to the right of Jupiter
March 26: Tonight, Venus and the moon are nicely paired with both objects appearing about the same height above the western horizon. This is the night to catch a classic photographic view of the moon and Venus together.
March 27: The moon stands above Venus and Jupiter as the planetary pair continues to separate.
At the same time that the brilliant group gleams in the western sky, Mars lies low in the eastern sky. It is the brightest starlike object in this part of the sky, but it dramatically under shines the bright duo in the west. Mars appears slightly red-orange and its color can be distinguished with binoculars. On March 3,Earth passes between the sun and Mars — an opposition. At this time, Mars is about 60 million miles away. An opposition for Mars occurs about every 25 months. Because Mars’ orbit is moderately elliptical, this opposition occurs when Mars is farthest from the sun (aphelion), it is not as close or as bright as several previous oppositions.
The waxing gibbous moon appears near Mars on March 6 and March 7.
A few days later, the Moon appears near Saturn and Spica. Saturn rises just around midnight in the southeastern sky. The chart above shows the planet-star pair with the moon for March 10 and March 11. The constellation Corvus is nearby.
The chart above shows the planets at mid_March 2012. Notice that an imaginary line extended from Earth to Venus goes to Jupiter. That is why the two planets appear close together in our sky, but they are widely separated in space. Additionally notice that our planet is between Mars and the sun — they are on opposite sides of Earth.
There’s a bright “you shouldn’t miss this” event occuring during the late February, 2012. The objects are so bright that casual sky watchers can view this grouping of planets and the moon without a telescope or binoculars. During the next few evenings, look for the moon, Venus, and Jupiter in the western sky, just after sunset. The chart above shows the western sky at about 6:45 p.m. in the Chicago area. Venus is the brightest starlike object in the evening sky. Jupiter, a little dimmer than Venus, stands (east) above and to the left (south) of Venus. Here are the events to watch:
- February 24: The waxing crescent moon appears below (west) and to the right (north) of Venus.
- February 25: In one day the moon moves so that it appears to the upper right of Venus. During these evenings the nighttime side of the moon is illuminated by sunlight reflected from our planet, as the image above shows. This gently illuminates the night portion of the moon in a similar effect to when a full moon illuminates the ground here. From the moon, the earth’s phase is just past full.
- February 26: The moon appears higher and to Jupiter’s lower right.
- February 27: Jupiter appears beneath the moon.
During the next few weeks watch Jupiter and Venus pass in the early evening sky. More in the March 2012 sky watching update that will be published here soon.
As the sky darkens during early February 2012, two bright planets dominate the sky. Venus shines brightly in the western sky, standing above the horizon and Jupiter gleams from the southern skies. Early in the month, the moon is east of the planets and outside the view shown above.
At night only the moon outshines Venus in brilliance. In turn Venus easily outshines Jupiter, appearing about 6 times brighter than the solar system’s largest planet. Venus is our planet’s nearest neighbor and its clouds are highly reflective as they return over 70% of the sunlight that reaches them.
Jupiter takes nearly 12 years to orbit the sun once. As we revolve around the sun each year, stars appear in the morning sky just before sunrise. Each day they rise earlier than the previous day. Each week they appear farther toward the west at the same time. This westward movement of the stars reflects our revolution to the east in our planet’s orbit. Because Jupiter revolves so slowly, its location in the sky reflects the westward movement of the stars in general, with some differences.
Several weeks after appearing in the morning sky, the stars and Jupiter appear in the east around sunset. Looking each week at the same time, we notice that the stars are higher in the east. Several weeks later, the stars are in the south at sunset, continuing to appear farther west at the same time. As Earth revolves, the stars appear in the west as the sky darkens, and then reappear in the eastern sky just before sunrise, repeating this annual cycle.
As this westward match continues, watch Jupiter during February approach Venus. Late in the month, the moon passes in the region of Venus and Jupiter as indicated on the chart above, February 24-27.
As an extra, with binoculars or at low power in small telescope, look for the planet Uranus near Venus on February 9. With optical aid, Uranus will display a bluish-green disk while the stars will appear as points. The chart above shows a magnified view of the area around Venus. Uranus is just at the limit of human eyesight in a dark sky, so some magnification through a binocular or small telescope will be needed.
With binoculars on February 22, look for Mercury and the moon low in the west at 5:45 p.m. Locate a view spotting with a good view of the natural horizon, away from houses and trees.
Mars shines brightly from the eastern evening skies during the month near Denebola, the star that represents Leo’s tail, although it is one-third the brightness of Jupiter and only about one-tenth the brightness of Venus. During the month Mars will increase in brightness as our planet approaches and passes the Red Planet. On the evening of February 9, the moon appears nearby.
A few nights later, the Moon appears near the star Spica and Saturn with constellation Corvus nearby. The chart above shows the view at 1 a.m. As the night progresses, the moon and other objects will appear to rise, appearing in the southern skies around sunrise.
The chart above shows the positions of the planets in the solar system at mid-month. With the planets moving in a counter clockwise motion, Earth is catching up and readying to pass Mars. Venus moves faster than Earth and it is slowly catching up with our planet.
Take a look at the sky this month!
January opens with a sky full of stars and planets in the evening sky. Taurus the Bull appears high in the southern skies during January’s evening hours. Two bright star clusters, known as the Hyades and the Pleiades, help construct the constellation. The “V” shaped cluster forms the bull’s head and face, although the bright reddish star Aldebaran that forms the bull’s eye is not part of the cluster. Aldebaran is one of the largest stars in our part of the galaxy. If placed in our solar system, it would extend beyond the orbit of Mars. The Pleiades ride on the bull’s back. The Taurus region of the sky is best explored with the low power of binoculars. The stars in the clusters are so widely spread that they are best viewed with at low power.
First Quarter: January 1 & January 31
Full Moon: January 9
Last Quarter: January 16
New Moon January 23
Mercury opens 2012 low in the southeastern sky before dawn. The planet is difficult to locate without a good horizon and binoculars. Antares and Sabik are nearby. Mercury disappears into the bright sun’s glare during the second week of the month and is invisible until it appears in the evening sky in late February.
Mars rises in the eastern sky around midnight this month, appearing near Denebola — Leo’s tail. On January 13, its identification is easier when the moon is nearby.
A few days later, the moon is near Saturn. At 5:30 a.m. on January 16, the moon appears near the planet and Spica.
On the morning of January 19, the moon makes a nice configuration with Antares and the stars of Scorpius around 5:30 a.m.
The chart above shows the positions of the visible planets at mid January 2012. Mercury is headed for superior conjunction (behind the sun) and Mars for opposition (Earth is between Mars and the sun.) Saturn and Jupiter are nearly on opposite sides of the their planetary orbits from each other.