Evening planets March 2012 March 4, 2012Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro.
Tags: astronomy, Jupiter, Mars, MichiganAstro, Moon, observing, Science, telescope, Uranus, urban_observing, Venus
If you like planets, and you prefer observing in the evening, now is the time to get out and look up.
Unless you really don’t get astronomy (in which case, why are you reading this blog??) you’ve surely noticed Venus and Jupiter in the evening in the west. They’ve been bright enough and spectacular enough to attract all sorts of attention.
Look a little lower just after sunset with a pair of binoculars and you can spot Mercury. It’ll be reasonably easy to catch until roughly March 10, then it disappears into the twilight. Exactly how hard it is to catch depends mostly on what your horizon is like and how much practice you’ve had.
If you have a good telescope, look for Uranus a bit south of Mercury, about 2 degrees to the left and half a degree lower in the sky. It needs to be pretty dark before you’ll pull it out of the twilight though, so don’t be disappointed if you can’t find it. It gets lower in the sky as the week goes on, so tonight and tomorrow are probably your last chances to catch it.
As Mercury disappears, turn your sights westward. Low in the west will be Mars. Opposition was March 3, and closest approach is March 5. Opposition means opposite the Sun in the sky, so it rises at sunset and sets at sunrise – perfect for viewing all night long. Closest approach means it’s bigger and brighter right now than at any other time this year. In fact, because of its orbit, the next time it’ll look this good will be summer 2014. so get out there with your telescope!
When you’re tired of Mars, take a peek at the Moon. It’ll be full on the 8th, so it’ll wash out all the dim sky objects, and of course the 8th will be a terrible time to view it. But the terminator is always nice on the other days.
If you’re still outside after 10, look back to the east again for Saturn. It’s tilted nicely, so the rings should be visible even in a pair of binoculars.
So basically, the only planet you can’t see tonight will be Neptune. It’s near conjunction, so you’re not going to see it right now. Also, if you prefer morning planets, you’ll have to wait a few months.
Finally, I’m trying out this new “Recommended Links” thing from WordPress. It seems a little hit-or-miss to me, but let me know what you think.