Tag Archives: Saturn

Mars and Saturn Tonight, August 5, 2012

On the night of Curiosity’s planned landing in the Red Planet, Mars is low in the southwest along with Saturn as shown in this 20-second exposure made at 9:15 p.m. CDT from the Chicago area.

Saturn appears above Spica, the brightest star in Virgo.

In about a week, Mars passes between Saturn and Spica.

(The streak of light at left is an airplane.)

Watch the planetary pair in the evening sky throughout this month. For our monthly sky watching posting, click here. (Click the image to see it larger.)

Skywatching August 2012

Each August, our planet moves through a trail of comet debris. That debris results in the Perseid Meteor Shower. In this photo the streak of light on the left side of the image is a meteor.

Image Credit

August signals the move into late summer.  First we experience a dramatic loss of sunlight, losing nearly an hour of the sun’s warmth during the month.  At night, the Milky Way arches across the sky from dark locations.  At mid-month our planet passes through comet fine debris.  The material collides with the air and glows temporarily — a meteor or shooting star.  The meteors are associated with Comet Swift-Tuttle.  The display of meteors through the night peaks on the morning of August 12, just before twilight begins.

Meteors can appear any where in the sky, but they seem to emerge from the constellation Perseus which rises in the northeast during early evening hours moving toward overhead during the night.  Because the meteors seem to emerge from the region of this constellation, the display is known as the Perseid Meteor Shower.

On the morning of August 12, the moon is in a waning crescent phase, rising in the southeast at 1:10 a.m.  Even with the moon in the sky, Perseids can be seen anywhere in the sky.  The typical rate is about one meteor per minute appearing anywhere in the sky.

Moon Phases

Full Moon — August 1 and August 31
Last Quarter — August 9
New Moon — August 17
First Quarter — August 24

Morning Sky

Venus and Jupiter continue to shine as bright Morning Stars during the month.  The chart above shows the planets on August 1 at 4 a.m. with Venus near Zeta Tauri and Jupiter near Aldebaran.  The planets are visible well into bright morning twilight.  For details about Venus as a Morning Star, see our posting detailing its appearance in the morning sky.

At mid-month, the moon moves through the sky where the Morning Stars appear.  The chart above shows the view at 4 a.m.

  • August 11:  The moon appears above Jupiter and Aldebaran.
  • August 12:  On the morning of the Perseid Meteor Shower described above,  the moon is lower in the sky, appearing between Jupiter and the star Zeta Tauri.
  • August 13:  The date when Venus makes its farthest separation (Greatest Elongation West) from the sun during this morning appearance, the moon appears above Venus.  On this morning, Venus rises about 3 hours, 20 minutes before the sun.

  • Later in the day, the moon occults (covers) Venus during daylight.  Venus can be visible in a clear sky.  It will appear to the right of the sun about 45 degrees west (to the right) of the sun.  A telescope will provide assistance to see this event.   Additionally have a good view of the western horizon as the moon and Venus set shortly after 5 p.m.  The occultation begins at 3:36 p.m. CDT in the Chicago area with the edge of the moon beginning to cover Venus.  By 3:41 p.m. Venus is completely eclipsed by the moon.  For the next 47 minutes, as the moon moves through its orbit, it completely blocks the view of Venus.  Venus begins to emerge from behind the moon at 4:28 p.m. and will be completely within view again by 4:34 p.m. CDT.  The chart above (click it to see it larger) shows a close-up daytime view of the moon and Venus before the occultation and the pair shortly after the event, as seen through a telescope with low powers.

Mercury enters the morning sky and reaches its Greatest Elongation West on August 16.  Mercury always appears in the sky during bright twilight, making it difficult to see.   Because its orbit is inside Earth’s orbit, Mercury is never seen on the nighttime side of Earth.  We only see it before sunrise or after sunset, never at midnight.  The chart above shows Mercury on the morning of August 15 at 5:30 a.m.  The moon is nearby and Venus higher in the sky.  From a viewing spot with a good eastern horizon locate Venus and the moon.  Mercury is to the lower left of the moon.  Binoculars will help with the identification.

By month’s end Venus’ rapid orbital motion has a moved it away from Jupiter.  The chart above (click it to see it larger) shows Venus and Jupiter at 4:30 a.m. on August 3o.  The bright stars that appear in the early evening sky during early winter appear in the eastern sky during late summer’s predawn hours.  The Gemini Twins, Castor and Pollux, Betelgeuse and Aldebaran appear in this view.

Evening Sky

Mars and Saturn are visible low in the southwest during early evening hours.

On August 1, look in the southwest as the sky darkens. The chart above shows Saturn above Spica, the brightest star in Virgo,  with Mars nearby.

Mars moves rapidly eastward in its orbit during the month.  We will observing it moving toward Saturn and Spica.

By August 10, Mars approaches Saturn and Spica.

On the evenings of August 13 and August 14, Mars appears to pass between Saturn and Spica.  On the 13th it appears closest to Spica.  Mars is several million miles away and Spica is 260 light years distant.

On the evening of August 17, Mars moves closest to Saturn.  While the two planets appear close in the sky, they are over 750 million miles apart, about 8 times the distance between our planet and the sun.

Later in the month, the waxing crescent moon joins the group.  The chart above shows the grouping on August 21 at 8:45 p.m.  It is important to find a clear western horizon to see this view.

On August 24, a few nights after it passes Mars, Saturn, and Spica, the moon appears near Antares in the southern skies after sunset.  It is easy to confuse Antares with Mars.  Both are about the same brightness and color, and the moon appears near both.  Antares is the brightest star in Scorpius.  It is a unique star.  With a cool temperature, indicated by its ruddy color, Antares must be a very large star.  At a distance of about 600 light years, this star shines with a brightness of over 17,000 of our suns.  Antares must be over 500 times larger than the sun, meaning that if we replaced our sun with Antares, the star would fill the inner solar system and extend to nearly Jupiter!

The chart above (click it to see it larger) shows the position of the visible planets on August 15, 2012.  Mars and Saturn are on the same side of the solar system, appearing in Earth’s night sky.  Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter are on the morning side of Earth.

August 2012 provides several opportunities to see celestial events:  a meteor shower and planets in both the morning and evening skies.

Mars and Saturn Tonight, July 20, 2012

Mars and Saturn are visible in the southwestern skies tonight as shown in this 30-second image made at 9:30 p.m. CDT from the Chicago area. Both planets are in the southwestern sky. Saturn is above the star Spica, brightest in Virgo, with Mars farther to the west. During the next three weeks, watch Mars move between Saturn and Spica. The trio  appear lower in the sky from week to week at the same time. Locate an observing spot with a clear western horizon to watch this close approach of these three objects.

For our monthly sky watching posting, click here.  (Click the image to see it larger.)

Skywatching July 2012

Image Credit

Our planet reaches its farthest point from the sun on July 4, about 152 million km from the sun.

Moon Phases

Full — July 3
Last — July 10
New — July 18
First — July 26

The Morning Sky

Venus and Jupiter dominate the predawn eastern skies throughout the month.  (See our Venus posting about Earth’s nearest planet’s visibility for the remainder of the year.)

On July 1 at 4:20 a.m. Venus and Jupiter are near Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus. (When a planet is in front of a constellation, we say the “planet is in” that constellation, although the stars are much farther away than the planets. The stars form a distant backdrop of the planets’ celestial motions.)

By July 9, Venus appears near Alebaran at 4:20 a.m.

By mid-month the waning crescent moon enters the grouping with an interesting grouping of the two planets, the star and our celestial satellite.  Notice how Venus’ orbital motion carries it past Aldebaran during the first half of the month.

By month’s end Venus orbital motion carries it away from Aldebaran.  Jupiter’s orbital motion is not as evident and it generally follows the annual motion of the stars.  That is they appear in the east just before sunrise.  As the months progress they appear farther to the west each morning at the same time.  Several months later, they appear in the east at sunset and continue to appear farther in the west each evening at the same time until they disappear in the sun’s glare only to reappear later in the morning sky just before sunrise.

Watch this celestial motion during the July in the morning sky.

The Evening Sky

Mercury makes a brief appearance in the western sky, just after sunset.  It appears low in the western sky during early July.  With binoculars and clear horizon look for it near the horizon slightly north of west about 40 minutes after the sun sets.

Mars and Saturn are low in the southwestern sky just after sunset.  Saturn appears near the star Spica, the brightest star in Virgo.


At 9:45 p.m. on July 1, look for Saturn and Spica. They are nearly the same brightness, although Saturn has a yellow appearance and Spica has a blue tint.  Mars appears farther to the right.

Each night Mars’ orbital motion carries it farther to the east as compared to the westward motion of the stars as described above. During the second half of the month, the moon enters the region of Saturn and Mars. On the evenings of July 24 and July 25, the moon moves past the grouping.

By month’s end, Mars appears closer to Saturn and Spica than it did at the month’s start.

The image above shows the position of the planets on July 15, 2012 (Click the image to see it larger)  Mercury, Mars, and Saturn appear on the evening side of the sky from Earth.  Venus and Jupiter appear on the morning side of the sky from Earth.

July provides excellent examples of the planets’ motions.  Take a look to watch Venus rapidly move in front of the distant stars and in the evening watch Mars move closer to Saturn.

Venus as a Morning Star, 2012-2013

This appearance of Venus has concluded.

After the historic Transit of Venus on June 5, 2012, Venus rapidly moves into the morning sky becoming a “Morning Star” for the rest of 2012.

In a dramatic view, a setting sun with Venus in transit passes behind clouds on June 5, 2012.

The above chart, developed from U.S. Naval Observatory data, shows the difference in time between Venus rising and sunrise through March 2013.  During June 2012 and  early July, Venus rises during morning twilight.  Venus rises earlier than the sun until early 2013 until Venus disappears behind the sun in March.

As Venus zooms into darker predawn skies, it is a gleaming object, easily outshining all other celestial objects besides the moon (and the sun).  On July 12, Venus appears at its brightest in this morning appearance (apparition), rising nearly 2.5 hours before the sun.  It stands in the low in the eastern sky as the predawn sky brightens.  By August 15, Venus reaches its maximum angular distance from the sun (greatest elongation west) and rises about 3.5 hours before sunrise.  By the end of August, Venus rises about 3.75 hours before the sun and thereafter, rises earlier each day until it disappears in bright during in January 2013 to pass behind the sun (superior conjunction) on March 28, 2013.

Until then, Venus will appear with bright stars and planets.  Here are some highlights of the predawn events:

  • June and July 2012:  Look for Venus with Jupiter and Aldebaran.  (See our monthly updates:  January 2013)
Venus and Jupiter, July 4, 2012
(Click the image to see it larger.)
  • July 9, 2012:  Venus appears near the star Aldebaran, passing about two full-moon widths (0.9 angular degrees) north of the star.
Venus, Jupiter, Aldebaran and the Pleiades, July 9, 2012
(Click the image to see it larger)
  • July 12, 2012: Venus reaches greatest brilliancy for this morning appearance, making it over 11 times brighter than Jupiter and nearly 175 times brighter than Aldebaran.
Venus, Jupiter, Aldebaran and the Pleiades, July 12, 2012
(Click the image to see it larger)
  • August 9, 2012:  Venus reaches Greatest Elongation West, the largest angular separation between the sun and the planet.  Venus rises nearly 3.5 hours before the sun and is high in the sky as the early morning sky brightens.

Venus nearing Greatest Elongation West on August 8.
(Skies for the writer were cloudy on August 9.)

  • September 1, 2012: Venus passes Pollux.

Venus nearing its closest approach to Pollux, August 31, 2012.
(The sky was cloudy for this observer on September 1, 2012.)

  • September 7, 2012:  Venus appears along a line drawn through Castor and Pollux in Gemini.

Venus approaches alignment with Castor and Pollux on September 6, 2012
(The sky was cloudy and rainy for this writer on September 7, 2012)

  • September 13, 2012:  Venus passes the Beehive star cluster in Cancer.


This chart shows Venus passing the Beehive star cluster
on September 13, 2012.

  • October 3, 2012:  Venus and Regulus make a close grouping.

Venus and Regulus on October 6
(The sky was cloudy for several days around October 3 for this observer.)

  • November 16, 2012:  Venus and Spica appear near each other.

Venus and Spica, November 13, 2012

  • November 27, 2012:  Venus and Saturn appear near each other.

November 27, 2012:  Venus and Saturn are separated
by less than one degree.

  • Early December , 2012:  Mercury joins Venus  in the morning sky for a few days.  On December 11, the moon makes a nice grouping with the planetary pair.  See the moon section below.

DSC08148

Under a clear sky, VenusMercury, and Saturn shine from the southeastern sky this morning (December 5, 2012) as seen in this 15-second exposure image made at 6:05 a.m. CST from the Chicago Area.

Brilliant Venus outshines all other starlike objects in the sky. This morning, Venus appears close to Zubenelgenubi(Libra) with Zubeneschamali nearby as indicated by the arrows.

Elusive Mercury appears low in the sky, about 8 degrees to the lower left of Venus, and can be seen without binoculars before the beginning of bright twilight. It appears below Venus for the next week or so and then disappears into the sun’s glare.

Saturn appears about 10 degrees to the upper right of Venus with Spica (Virgo) higher and farther toward the south, about 23 degrees to the upper right of Venus.

  • December 23, 2012:  Venus is north of Antares.
Notice that Mars does not appear with Venus in the morning sky throughout this period.  Mars is in the evening sky until it passes behind the sun in April 2013.

The moon makes close groupings with Venus on the mornings of:
  • July 15, 2012
This chart shows the clustering of Venus, Jupiter, Aldebaran,
and the Moon on July 15, 2012
  • August 13, 2012

Skies were cloudy and raining on August 13 in the Chicago area
Here is a view of the moon’s position with the planets on August 12, 2012
(Click the image to see it larger.)

  • September12, 2012

Under partly cloudy skies, Venus and the moon appeared about 5 degrees apart
(Click the image to see it larger.)

  • October 12, 2012

In a cobalt blue predawn sky, a waning crescent moon appears
6 degrees to the lower right of Venus
By clicking the image to see it larger, notice the “Earthshine” on
the moon’s nighttime side.

  • November 11, 2012

Venus and the waning crescent moon shine in the southeastern sky.
Click the image to see “Earthshine” on the moon.

  • December 11, 2012

DSC08191

Moon joins Venus and a cast of Mercury, Saturn,
and Spica.

  • January 10, 2013 , although this occurs in bright morning twilight.

In addition Venus’ rising place along the eastern horizon changes as shown in the above chart.  Since Venus never appears in the sky at midnight, like Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, Venus somewhat mirrors the sun’s changing rising position.  Venus rises north of east until November 1; thereafter, it rises south of east, making its maximum southern rising of this apparition January 3 through January 13, 2013.  By then it will be rising in bright twilight and very difficult to see.

Take note of Venus in the morning sky throughout the rest of this year.

Specific details for Venus can be found in each month’s skywatching outlook:

Sky Watching June 2012

Image Credit

The Transit of Venus is the big event this month.  A transit occurs when either Mercury or Venus appears to move across the face of the sun.  While the two planets appear in between the earth and the sun at inferior conjunction, every 116 days for Mercury, and 584 days for Venus, they rarely move precisely between the two celestial orbs.

The orbital planes of the solar system are nearly in the same plane, but not exactly.  Mercury’s orbit is inclined about 7 angular degrees compared to Earth and Venus is about 3 angular degrees.  In our sky, the sun’s apparent angular size is only about 0.5 degrees.  So as Mercury and Venus revolve around the sun and pass between our planet and the sun, they rarely pass exactly in between Earth and sun.   So they usually pass above the sun or below it when they go through inferior conjunction.

The rare times when they go exactly between, they can be seen crossing the sun’s face.  The last Transit of Venus was in June 2004.  Before the 2004 event, the last Transit of Venus was December 6, 1882.  After the June 5 transit, the next one is December 11, 2117 followed by a second nearly eight years later on December 8, 2125.

Since the invention of the telescope, there have been 7 Venus transits.  Edmund Halley first realized that transits could be used to measure the distances of the planets from the sun.  Before precise measurements, distances were measured in Astronomical Units (A.U.), the relative distances of the planets from the sun as perfected by Copernicus.  The distance feat was attempted by measuring the time Venus took to cross the face of the sun.  The timing indicated the distance.  Today distances are accurately measured with radar.  The discovery of extrasolar planets is made by observing transits with space borne telescopes.

With Venus transit cycles occurring every 130 years, this is one story you won’t likely hear about from a living ancestor.

As the image above indicates, the transit is not a spectacular visual event.  Venus appears as a small dark dot against the brilliance of the sun.  It will be unimpressive!  Take all precautions that you would when observing a solar eclipse.  For more information about the Transit of Venus, read this web site.

 The video below displays the event as seen from the Chicago area.  The transit begins at 5:09 p.m. CDT as the planet begins to move in front of the sun.  By 5:27 p.m. CDT, Venus is completely visible on the face of the sun.  The planet continues to move across the face of the sun.  By 8:29 p.m., Venus reaches the midpoint in its transit, although the sun sets at 8:24 p.m. CDT in the Chicago area.  The transit continues with the sun below the horizon with it leaving the sun’s face at 11:49 p.m. CDT.

After Venus passes inferior conjunction, between Earth and sun with the accompanying transit event.  It pops into the morning sky.  On June 17 using binoculars and from a good observing spot with a clear horizon, look for a clustering of Jupiter, the moon, Venus and Aldebaran.  This is only about 25 minutes before sunrise.

 By month’s end Venus, Jupiter, and Aldebaran stand higher in the sky during predawn hours.  The above chart shows the planets, star and the star cluster Pleiades on June 30 at 4:30 a.m.

 Lunar Phases

Full — June 4
Last Quarter — June 11
New — June 19
First Quarter — June 27

At the full moon on June 4, the Chicago area will see the beginning of a partial eclipse.  Starting at 3:48 a.m., the moon begins to move through the earth’s outer shadow.  For the most part, this phase of the eclipse is not different from observing a typical full moon.  As the eclipse progresses, it sets at 5:25 a.m.  The partial eclipse is visible from the Pacific Ocean.

Summer Begins

While this year’s weather has been ahead of the season, summer begins at 6:09 p.m. on June 20.  At this point the sun reaches its point farthest north of the equator.  We observe the sun rising far north of east and setting far north of west.  The sun reaches its highest point at noon (1 p.m. with Daylight Saving Time), although it is not exactly overhead.

Mercury appears in the western sky at mid-month.  On June 21st, the moon passes nearby.  The chart above shows the region at 9 p.m.  The chart shows the sky only 30 minutes after sunset.  With binoculars and a clear horizon, locate the moon, Mercury and the twins Pollux and Castor.

Mars appears in the western sky with the moon on June 25 and June 26.  Look in the western sky after it darkens.  Mars appears in front of the stars of Leo with Denebola and Regulus nearby.

 After the moon appears near Mars, it moves near Saturn  on the evenings of June 27 and June 28.

This chart shows the positions of the “naked eye” planets on June 15, 2012.  (Click on the image to see it larger.)  Venus has moved between the sun.  Jupiter is on the morning side of the sky with the other planets on the evening side of Earth.

June 2012 provides several opportunities to view the sky.  Use a safe filter to observe the Transit of Venus.  Enjoy the longer days of the month and the views the sky presents.

Four Planets in Evening Sky, April 11, 2012

During the next several evenings look for 4 planets in the evening sky. Jupiter is rapidly getting lower in the western sky as Venus sparkles near Aldebaran and the Pleiades.  As can been seen in the image above, made at 8:30 p.m. CDT in the Chicago area, choose your horizon well as neighboring houses and trees may block the view.

Mars is high in the southeastern sky during the early evening among the stars of Leo.

At the same time, Saturn appears low in the southeastern sky near the star Spica. As seen from this 30-second image, the planet can been seen through the bright lights of the surrounding area.  See more about the April sky in our monthly skywatching post

April 2012 Skywatching

Image Credit

Moon Phases

New — 21
First — 29
Full — 6
Last  — 13

April provides lengthening daylight and a continued dazzling display of Venus in the western sky after sunset.  During the month daylight increases by an hour to nearly 14 daylight hours by month’s end in the Chicago area.

Mercury is a morning object throughout the month. From the northern mid-latitudes it lies low in the eastern sky during predawn hours. The moon is nearby on the mornings of April 18 and 19.  On the first date, locate the moon, then use binoculars to find Mercury.

This chart shows the evening appearance of Venus for 2011-2012. The chart shows difference between the time the sun sets and Venus sets. Chart compiled from US Naval Observatory data.

Throughout the month, Venus continues its brilliant display in the western sky.  The chart above shows the length of time between sunset and Venus setting.  During the first several days of the month, Venus sets nearly seven hours after sunset.  From that point until mid-May, when it disappears into the sun’s glare, it rapidly sets earlier each night.  Venus is quickly catching Earth and will pass between Earth and the sun in early June.    Venus reaches it greatest brilliance on April 30.   At this time, Venus is 12 times brighter than Jupiter.

A planet’s brightness depends on its distance, its reflectivity and its phase.  (Planets display phases similar to the moon.  Mercury and Venus display crescent phases, but the other planets do not.)  The chart above shows the inner solar system and the proximity of Venus and Earth when Venus is at its greatest brilliance on April 30.  In this view, the planets move counterclockwise.

Early in the month, Venus appears to pass the Pleaides star cluster.  In a dark sky the Pleiades are visible to the unaided eye.  For those readers who live in areas with many lights, use binoculars to locate the planet and the star cluster on the evenings of April 2-4.  The grouping can be photographed.  Use the manual setting on a camera with the aperture setting the widest setting (lowest number).  On a tripod, make a 30 second exposure.  Venus and the stars will appear on the processed image.

The moon returns to the evening sky late in the month as Venus is at its greatest brilliancy. On the evening of April 24, the moon appears between Venus and Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus.

Mars is high in the eastern sky at sunset. The chart above shows Mars, the star Regulus, and the moon at 8:45 p.m. CDT. As our planet rotates during the night, Mars appears farther to the west during the night as it sets in the west during predawn hours.

During the month Jupiter rapidly disappears into the sun’s glare. The chart above shows Jupiter at 8:10 p.m. CDT on April 15. Notice the great separation between Venus and Jupiter on this date. Jupiter goes behind the sun (conjunction) on May 13 and reappears in the morning sky later in June.

Saturn reaches opposition on April 15, entering the sky at sunset. (At opposition the sun and planet are on opposite sides of the sky as the earth passes between the planet and the sun.) When a planet is at opposition, it rises at sunset, appears in the south at midnight, and sets in the west at sunrise. The chart above shows Saturn, the star Spica, and the moon on April 6, 2012 at 10 p.m. CDT.

Even though Saturn is larger than Venus and Earth, its great distance diminishes its brightness.  Venus is nearly 100 times brighter than Saturn during the month of April.

This chart shows the positions of the planets visible without a telescope or binocular on April 15, 2012.   (Click the chart to see a larger image.)  Notice that Earth is between the sun and Saturn (opposition). Venus is about to move between the Earth and Sun.

Sky Watching, March 2012

Moon Phases:

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.


After the closest pairing of Jupiter and Venus, the moon appears in the western sky with them in late March.  Here’s what to look for at approximately 8:15 CDT in Chicago:

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.