What’s Up March 2012

Jupiter's Great Red Spot from Voyager 1

See five naked-eye planets in early March, for the first time since 2004. Optimal viewing lasts through March 7, so get out while the skies are clear!

The classical naked-eye planets—Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn—can be seen easily without optical aids and so have been known since ancient times.

But the quintet hasn’t appeared together during a single night since 2004.

What’s more, this week’s parade of planets will be joined in the nighttime skies by the waxing crescent to waxing gibbous moon and the superbright stars Sirius and Canopus.

The best time to catch sight of the cosmic parade will be between February 28 and March 7. This is when the more elusive planets Mercury and Mars will be at their brightest in the evening sky for 2012, and when the moon will be above the horizon for many hours before setting.
— National Geographic

As soon as the Sun sets, you’ll be drawn to a pair of unmistakably bright beacons that dominate the early-evening scene. Venus and Jupiter have been edging closer for many weeks, and their celestial dance culminates in mid-March.

Meanwhile, over in the east, Mars enters the evening sky as darkness falls. Above it are Regulus and the stars of Leo.

In between these planetary beacons are Orion and, to his left, Sirius.
Sky and Telescope

The next Full Moon is on the 8th, and the next New Moon is on the 22nd.

The International Space Station and various satellites can be tracked and viewed at Heavens-Above.com (link is set for Mt. Shasta’s location and elevation.)

For a full list of sky happenings this month, as well as a handy printable map, download The Evening Sky Map. (Translations to other languages are not currently supported, but they hope to have them back sometime in 2012.)

Hi! I’m Danielle Signor, MSCoC’s webmaster. I witnessed two out of three of the last space shuttle launches in the program: Discovery in February 2011, as part of the STS-133 NASA Tweetup event; and Atlantis in July 2011 (STS-135). Find me on Twitter at @silverrockets, and check out my blog at Silver-Rockets.com.