Last modified: Thursday, February 27, 2003
STAR TRAK/March 2003
Four planets on parade during March
Mars has waited patiently in obscurity for months while Jupiter and Saturn majestically sailed high across the night sky and Venus dazzled in the east before dawn. In March, Mars will finally join the evening parade of bright planets.
Jupiter, the largest planet and second only to Venus in brightness, will be the brightest "star" in the evening sky during March. Jupiter will be high in the southeast after sunset, even higher in the south around 10 p.m. local time, and in the west during the hours before morning twilight. Binoculars will show both Jupiter and the Beehive star cluster in the same field of view.
Far to Jupiter's lower right (south) will be the second-brightest object, Sirius, the brightest actual star in the sky of the Northern Hemisphere. If you watch Sirius carefully on a clear night, you can see it twinkle in different colors in addition to its usual brilliant white.
Saturn, in the constellation Taurus the Bull, will shine bright yellow high in the south above the constellation Orion the Hunter during early evening. Later it will shift to Orion's upper right (west). This is the time of year when Orion is highest in the south soon after dark. The row of three stars forming Orion's belt will point to the lower left (east) toward white Sirius, and about the same distance to the upper right (west) toward orange Aldebaran.
Mars will rise around 3 a.m. local time during March. The Red Planet will brighten rapidly as the days go by, though it will still be fairly small. Already it outshines its traditional rival, the bright orange star Antares to its upper right (south).
Venus, the brightest planet of all, will be a "morning star" gleaming low in the east-southeast during morning twilight. It will be visible only for a short time, gradually sinking lower as the month passes.
Mercury will not be visible during March as it passes behind the sun.
The sun will cross the celestial equator (an extension of Earth's equator onto the sky) on March 20 at 8 p.m. EST (March 21 at 1:00 Universal Time) heading north. The March equinox marks the start of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and fall in the Southern Hemisphere. For the next six months in the Northern Hemisphere, the days will be longer than the nights.
Followers of many religious faiths around the world observe days of celebration during March and April as spring returns to the Northern Hemisphere. Most of these days are linked in some way to the March equinox. For example, each year Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after March 20, the most common date of the equinox.
Day and night are not precisely the same length at the time of the equinox. That happens on different dates for different latitudes. At higher latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere, the date of equal day and night occurs before the March equinox. In the Southern Hemisphere, this happens after the March equinox. Information about exactly when the equinox happens at different places on Earth's surface is provided at http://aa.usno.navy.mil/faq/docs/equinoxes.html.
The moon will be new on March 3, at first quarter on March 11, full on March 18 and at last quarter on March 25.