Wednesday, March 1
The month of March kicks off with a bang as Venus and Jupiter meet in the sky. Tonight is the best time to view the event in the U.S., even though the true moment of conjunction occurs early tomorrow (when the two planets have set for U.S. observers.)
At sunset, Venus is still about 30° high in the west. The bright magnitude –3.9 planet should pop out of the twilight shortly after the Sun sinks below the horizon. Jupiter lies just 30′ to the southeast (upper left); at magnitude –2.1 it’s still bright enough to appear soon after sunset. See how long it takes for you to spot the gas giant’s glow in the sky.
Focus in on the pair with binoculars or, better yet, a telescope to glean more detail. Venus appears 12″ across and is 86 percent lit. Here, Jupiter really shows its might — although it is farther from Earth, its much larger girth means it appears 34″ across, nearly three times as wide as Venus. Also visible are three of its four Galilean moons: From nearest to farthest, Io, Ganymede, and Callisto all lie strung out to the planet’s east. Europa is currently behind the planet in an occultation and won’t make its way out of Jupiter’s long, dark shadow before the system sets for the eastern and middle U.S., though West Coast observers will see it reappear about 15′ east of the planet’s limb around 7:10 PST.
Sunrise: 6:33 A.M.
Sunset: 5:52 P.M.
Moonrise: 12:14 P.M.
Moonset: 3:23 A.M.
Moon Phase: Waxing gibbous (73%)
Thursday, March 2
Venus officially passes 0.5° north of Jupiter at 6 A.M. EST, when both are no longer above the horizon. Instead, you can catch them again after sunset, now with Venus shining less than 1° to the upper right (northwest) of Jupiter. They’re still close enough to catch in the same field of view of a telescope, and all four of Jupiter’s moons are visible tonight. Io sits alone west of the planet, while Europa (closest), Ganymede, and Callisto (farthest) lie east.
After you’ve looked your fill, glance far to the upper left (east-southeast) in the sky and you’ll spot unmissable Sirius, the nose of Canis Major. Slide back to the lower right (west) of that bright star a bit, and you’ll be smack dab in the middle of the constellation Lepus the Hare. Situated directly south of Orion, Lepus has two named stars, Arneb (its magnitude 2.6 alpha star) and Nihal (magnitude 2.9, the beta star). But the constellation features several other, fainter stars that create the vague outline of a rabbit beneath the familiar hourglass of Orion’s body.
Sunrise: 6:32 A.M.
Sunset: 5:53 PM
Moonrise: 1:09 P.M.
Moonset: 4:12 A.M.
Moon Phase: Waxing gibbous (80%)
Friday, March 3
The Moon reaches apogee, the farthest point from Earth in its orbit, at 1 P.M. EST. At that time, our satellite will sit 252,207 miles (405,888 kilometers) away.
Leo the Lion is climbing up into the eastern sky after sunset this evening. Give him a few hours to rise above the horizon haze, then turn your telescope toward his hind end to locate the beautiful Leo Triplet of galaxies.
This trio is located about halfway between Theta (θ) and Iota (ι) Leonis, making them relatively easy to find with your telescope. The grouping consists of three spirals: M65, M66, and NGC 3628, all roughly 35 million light-years away. M66 is brightest by a smidge, coming in at magnitude 8.9; M65 is magnitude 9.3, while NGC 3628 is magnitude 9.5. Both M65 and M66 will show some signs of their spiral structure through increasing apertures, but NGC 3628 is edge-on, looking long, skinny, and relatively featureless. NGC 3628 is the farthest east; using this galaxy as a starting point, M65 lies 35′ southwest of NGC 3628 and M66 is 35′ south of NGC 3628.
The Moon should be far enough away that a moderate-sized telescope will pick up these targets. If you’re having trouble, though, wait a few days, until the Moon has passed through this region of the sky and rises after the Lion. That will afford darker skies for those with smaller instruments to enjoy these galaxies.
Sunrise: 6:30 A.M.
Sunset: 5:54 P.M.
Moonrise: 2:09 P.M.
Moonset: 4:54 A.M.
Moon Phase: Waxing gibbous (87%)