In the wee hours on March 18 and 19, 2017, watch for the waning gibbous moon as it sweeps along the top of the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion. The moon will be near Scorpius’ bright red star Antares. The planet Saturn can also be found in this part of the sky, ascending in the east between midnight and dawn, in the western part of the constellation next door to Scorpius, Sagittarius the Archer.
The waning moon will pair up with Saturn on the morning of the March equinox, which happens this year on March 20.
Saturn is relatively inconspicuous now, and in fact it’s the least conspiucuous of the bright planets. But you can come to know it, and recognize it, throughout most of Earth’s year. Next month, Saturn will reach its stationary point in our sky, where it is poised, temporarily, in front of stars. Then it’ll begin its 2017 retrograde motion, when it moves westward for a few months among the stars before resuming its normal eastward motion in late August. For astronomers, all of that is shorthand for the fact that Saturn is about to become a bit brighter, and to appear in a more convenient part of the sky, as it approach its June 15, 2017 opposition.
That is, Earth will pass between Saturn and the sun on June 15, and then this planet will be rising in the east when the sun sets in the west, at its best for this year.
Watch for it in the next few mornings!
Bottom line: The moon is waning, appearing later each night. It’s in a pretty inconspicuous place in our sky. But if you start watching this weekend, you can learn to identify Saturn and the star Antares and so appreciate them in the months to come!