Red Mars and golden Saturn have been edging toward each other – day by day – and this week they are very close. Their conjunction comes on April 2, 2018. You might be able to recognize them just by looking outside before dawn for two similarly bright objects, very near each other. Plus … Jupiter, a very bright planet, is near the moon late at night on April 1 or early in the morning April 2. The moon and Jupiter can also help you find Mars and Saturn!
At mid-northern latitudes, Mars and Saturn rise around 1 1/2 hours after midnight; from temperate latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere, these two worlds climb over the southeast horizon about one hour before the midnight hour.
The moon and Jupiter come up earlier. From northerly latitudes, Jupiter follows the moon into the eastern sky around mid-to-late evening, whereas at southerly latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere, the moon and Jupiter are up by early-to-mid evening.
By the predawn hours on April 2, the moon and Jupiter will have moved over into the western half of the sky. If you’re up at that early hour, draw an imaginary line from the moon through Jupiter to locate Mars and Saturn. It’s a long jump from the moon and Jupiter to Mars and Saturn, but you should be able to pick them out, because Mars and Saturn are bright and close together on the sky’s dome. Just don’t let the star Antares fool you. It’s about the same brightness and redness as Mars now!
Mars and Saturn are located in a rich region of the sky, above the famous Teapot of the constellation Sagittarius. If you see them in a dark sky, you’ll find the edgewise view of our Milky Way galaxy broadening and brightening in this direction, which is toward the galaxy’s center.
From anywhere worldwide, get up about 90 minutes (or earlier) before sunrise to view Mars and Saturn in the predawn/dawn sky. At conjunction on April 2, Mars passes a rather scant 1.3 degrees south of Saturn. (For some perspective, 1.3 degrees on the sky’s dome is approximately equal to the width of your little finger at arm’s length.) These two colorful celestial gems will easily fit within the same binocular field for another week or so.
Mars, the fourth planet from the sun, goes eastward in front of all the constellations of the zodiac in nearly two years, while Saturn, the sixth planet outward, takes nearly 30 years to go full circle through the zodiac. So that means Mars laps Saturn, or has a conjunction with Saturn, in periods of roughly two years.
The last conjunction of Mars and Saturn happened on August 25, 2016, and the next one will be March 31, 2020.
The moon will be edging toward Mars and Saturn over the coming week, and the pair will still be close when the moon slides by them on the morning of April 7. From North America, you have a good chance of viewing the threesome – the moon, Mars and Saturn – in a single binocular field. Circle April 7 on your calendar and think photo opportunity.
Bottom line: Enjoy the close pairing of ruddy Mars and golden Saturn before dawn on April 2, 2018. The moon and bright Jupiter will be nearby.