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| Astronomy Essentials | Space on Feb 28, 2015

March 2015 guide to the five visible planets

Three of the five visible planets are in good view in March 2015. Venus and Jupiter shine first thing at nightfall. Saturn adorns the late night and predawn sky.

Photo credit: Jean-Baptiste Feldmann - photographies

The March full moon comes on March 5, 2015 at 18:05 UTC (1:05 p.m. EST). It’s the smallest full moon of the year – a mini-moon. Read more. Photo via Jean-Baptiste Feldmann – Photographies

Evening planets in March 2015

Brilliant Venus in west at nightfall.

Fading Mars in west at nightfall.

Bright Jupiter at nightfall, out almost all night.

Morning planets in March 2015

Saturn from late night until dawn.

Mercury in east as dawn breaks.

Smallest full moon of the year on March 5

Zodiacal light is glowing pyramid in west after sunset.

Young moon, Mars pair up beneath Venus after sunset March 21

Young moon, Mars pair up beneath Venus after sunset March 21 Read more

There will be another fabulous display of the moon, Mars and Venus this month! Look after sunset March 21. Bring along binoculars, if you have them, to enhance the view. It’ll be spectacular! Unforgettable. Definitely photogenic, so snag your camera before going outside. Read more.

The waxing crescent moon   on March 22, March 23 and March 24

The waxing crescent moon on March 22, March 23 and March 24

Brilliant Venus in west at nightfall. Venus – brightest of all planets, and third-brightest object in the sky after the sun and moon – climbs higher up at dusk and nightfall, and stays out later after dark, throughout March 2015. It beams as brilliantly as a lighthouse as darkness falls this month! Be sure to catch Venus at dusk and early evening, especially from temperate latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere, because it’ll follow the sun beneath the horizon by early evening. At mid-northern latitudes, Venus stays out longer after dark but still sets by mid-evening.

At mid-northern latitudes, this dazzling world sets about two and one-half hours after sunset in early March. The queen planet’s visibility improves throughout March, setting about three hours after the sun by the month’s end.

Do not miss the sky on the early evening of March 21. The young moon and Mars will lie beneath Venus as soon as darkness falls on that evening. Read more here. This date (March 21) may present your final chance to view Mars in the evening sky because the Red Planet will soon fade into the glare of sunset.

The waxing crescent moon swings close to Venus on March 22 and then climbs toward the star Aldebaran on March 23 and March 24.

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Fading Mars in west at nightfall. Mars continues to fade in brightness, especially in contrast to its glory when Earth passed between the Red Planet and the sun in April, 2014. But you can see Mars still, especially when it pairs up with the moon on March 21. Venus will help guide your eye to Mars, which shines below Venus and closer to the horizon as darkness falls. Throughout March 2015, Venus will be climbing upward from the sunset while Mars will be sinking toward it.

The red planet Mars is getting dimmer as it lags behind us in its larger and slower orbit. At mid-northern latitudes, Mars sets about two hours after the sun in early March. Like a fading ember, this world is slowly but surely disappearing into the glow of sunset as Earth races ahead of Mars in its orbit. By late March 2015, Mars will set about one and one-half hours after the sun and will be hard to find in the glare of evening twilight.

Watch for the waxing gibbous moon moving toward Jupiter on February 28, March 1 and March 2.

Watch for the waxing gibbous moon moving toward Jupiter on February 28, March 1 and March 2.

Bright Jupiter at nightfall, out almost all night. Once you see Jupiter in the east at dusk or nightfall, it’s unmistakable. This world shines more brilliantly than any star. As evening falls, look for brilliant Venus in the west, and Jupiter in the east. Jupiter is always the second-brightest planet after Venus. In March 2015, Venus sets in the west at early-to-mid evening, leaving the king planet Jupiter to rule the night until the predawn hours. Jupiter goes westward throughout the night; and at mid-northern latitudes, sets in the west about one hour before sunrise in early March, and by the month’s end, sets about two hours before sunup.

Watch the moon pass close to Jupiter on the evenings of March 1, March 2 and March 3.

If you have binoculars or a telescope, be sure to check out Jupiter’s four major moons, which look like pinpricks of light on or near the same plane. They are often called the Galilean moons to honor Galileo, who discovered these great Jovian moons in 1610. In their order from Jupiter, these moons are Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.

These moons circle Jupiter around the Jovian equator. In cycles of six years, we view Jupiter’s equator edge-on. So, in 2015, we get to view a number of mutual events involving Jupiter’s moons through a high-powered telescope. Click here or here or here for more details.

Click here for a Jupiter’s moons almanac, courtesy of Sky & Telescope.

If you're an early riser, use the waning moon to locate the planet Saturn and the star Antares for several mornings, centered on March 12.

If you’re an early riser, use the waning moon to locate the planet Saturn and the star Antares for several mornings, centered on March 12.

Saturn from late night till dawn. At mid-northern latitudes, the golden planet Saturn rises in the southeast about one hour after midnight in early March and one hour before midnight by the month’s end. (By midnight we mean midway between sunset and sunrise, which is roughly 1 a.m. daylight-saving time.) At temperate latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere, Saturn rises at late evening in early March and mid-evening by late March. Watch for the waning moon to shine within the vicinity of Saturn for a few days, centered on March 12.

Binoculars don’t reveal Saturn’s gorgeous rings. For that, you need a small telescope.

Saturn’s rings are inclined at about 25o from edge-on in March 2015, exhibiting their northern face. Several years from now, in October 2017, the rings will open most widely, displaying a maximum inclination of 27o. As with so much in space (and on Earth), the appearance of Saturn’s rings from Earth is cyclical. In the year 2025, the rings will appear edge-on as seen from Earth. After that, we’ll begin to see the south side of Saturn’s rings, to increase to a maximum inclination of 27o by May 2032.

At southerly latitudes, the ecliptic (in green) is highly inclined to the horizon on March mornings, making the moon and Mercury easier to see from the Southern Hemisphere on March 18 and 19.

At southerly latitudes, the ecliptic (in green) is highly inclined to the horizon on March mornings, making the moon and Mercury easier to see from the Southern Hemisphere on March 18 and 19.

Mercury in east as dawn breaks. Mercury is our solar system’s innermost planet and always stays near the sun in our sky. As seen from the Southern Hemisphere, the first half of March 2015 presents a particularly good time for catching Mercury in the morning sky. We at northerly latitudes aren’t so lucky but we can always try our luck with a pair of binoculars.

At temperate latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere, this world rises about two hours before the sun during the first week of March. At mid-northern latitudes, Mercury rises about one hour before sunrise at the first of the month, but rises considerably closer to sunrise only a few days thereafter. By the time that the waning crescent moon passes close to Mercury on the mornings of March 18 and 19, Mercury will be virtually impossible to view from northerly latitudes, but still in sight from southerly latitudes.

So you catch our drift here. From the Southern Hemisphere, Mercury puts on a decent show in the morning sky in the first few weeks of March 2015, whereas we at northerly latitudes miss out!

However, Mercury will transition out of the morning sky and into the evening sky in April 2015. Then it’ll the Northern Hemisphere’s turn for a favorable apparition of Mercury, as the innermost planet features its best evening apparition of the year in late April and early May 2015.

Distances of the planets from the sun

What do we mean by visible planet? By visible planet, we mean any solar system planet that is easily visible without an optical aid and that has been watched by our ancestors since time immemorial. In their outward order from the sun, the five visible planets are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. These planets are visible in our sky because their disks reflect sunlight, and these relatively nearby worlds tend to shine with a steadier light than the distant, twinkling stars. They tend to be bright! You can spot them, and come to know them as faithful friends, if you try.

Bottom line: Three of the five visible planets are in good view in March 2015: Venus, Jupiter shine first thing at nightfall, and Saturn adorns the late night and predawn hours! Mars and Mercury pose more of a challenge, as Mars sinks toward the sunset and Mercury falls toward sunrise.

View larger.| See the little white dot of the planet Venus in the upper right of this photo?  It'll be back to your evening sky in early December.  Helio de Carvalho Vital captured this image on November 18, 2014 from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  He wrote,

View larger.| Venus near the setting sun on November 18, 2014 by Helio de Carvalho Vital in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He wrote, “I managed to capture Venus as it is starting its return to dusk, despite the fact that it is still at a mere 6.2° distance from the sun. The photos show it a few minutes before setting behind the northern side of the 1,021-meter high Tijuca Peak, located some 6.5 km away. It was deeply immersed in the intense glare of the sun, that would set some 13 minutes later.”

Lunar eclipse on the night of October 8, 2014.  The object to the left is the planet Uranus!  This beautiful photo is by Janey Wing Kenyon of Story, Wyoming.

Lunar eclipse on the night of October 8, 2014. The object to the left is the planet Uranus! This beautiful photo is by Janey Wing Kenyon of Story, Wyoming.

Debra Fryar in Calobreves, Texas captured this photo of the moon and Jupiter on May 31, 2014.  Jupiter was close to the twilight then.  In early July, Jupiter will be even closer to the twilight, about to disappear in the sun's glare.

Debra Fryar in Calobreves, Texas captured this photo of the moon and Jupiter on May 31, 2014. Jupiter was close to the twilight then.

Jupiter and its four major moons as seen through a 10

With only a modest backyard telescope, you can easily see Jupiter’s four largest moons. Here they are through a 10″ (25 cm) Meade LX200 telescope. Image credit: Jan Sandberg

Jupiter was rivaling the streetlights on December 29, 2013, when Mohamed Laaifat Photographies captured this photo in Normandy, France.

Jupiter was rivaling the streetlights, when Mohamed Laaifat Photographies captured this photo in Normandy, France. Visit his page on Facebook.

Venus on Dec. 26 by Danny Crocker-Jensen

Venus by Danny Crocker-Jensen

These are called star trails. It’s a long-exposure photo, which shows you how Earth is turning under the stars. The brightest object here is Jupiter, which is the second-brightest planet, after Venus. This awesome photo by EarthSky Facebook friend Mohamed Laaifat in Normandy, France. Thank you, Mohamed.

View larger. | Mercury, Venus and Jupiter seen when evening fell in Hong Kong earlier today - June 1, 2013 - by EarthSky Facebook friend Matthew Chin.  Awesome shot, Matthew!

View larger. | Mercury, Venus and Jupiter seen when evening fell in Hong Kong on June 1, 2013. Photo by EarthSky Facebook friend Matthew Chin. Awesome shot, Matthew!

Skywatcher, by Predrag Agatonovic.

Skywatcher, by Predrag Agatonovic.

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