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Star Trak: March 2017

  • March 1, 2017

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Venus will drop rapidly from the evening sky in March, after dominating the western sky for weeks. Look for the brilliant white planet in the west-northwest in bright twilight, still very high at the start of the month. By March 22, it will set 30 minutes after the sun and then rise 33 minutes before the sun the next morning. You may be able to see Venus as both the “Morning Star” before sunrise and the “Evening Star” after sunset on the same day.

Mercury will have its best appearance of the year in March for viewers at mid-northern latitudes. After passing behind the sun March 7, Mercury will climb above the western horizon in bright evening twilight around March 15. Venus and Mercury will be closest March 18, at similar altitudes about 5 degrees above the western horizon a half hour after sunset.

Mars will remain visible into the late evening to the far upper left (south) of Mercury and Venus, setting about three hours after the sun.

Jupiter will rise in the east well after dark at the start of the month and then earlier as the month advances until it appears in twilight. It will be highest after midnight all month.

Saturn will rise almost three hours after midnight and shine highest in the south-southeast as dawn starts to brighten. Its rings will be tilted 26 degrees to our line of sight. Saturn’s largest moon, the planet-sized Titan, can be seen with any telescope. See this NASA website for the latest news and images from the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn.

Equinox

The sun will cross the celestial equator (an extension of Earth's equator onto the sky) at 6:29 a.m. EDT (10:29 Universal Time) March 20 heading north. This will mark the start of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and autumn in the Southern Hemisphere. For the next six months in the Northern Hemisphere, the days will be longer than the nights.

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 the exact time of the equinox at different places on Earth's surface is provided by the U.S. Naval Observatory.

Zodiacal light

If you live in an area that is dark enough for you to see the Milky Way sprawling across the night sky, you also have a chance of seeing the interplanetary dust in the plane of our solar system. Moonless evenings in late winter and early spring are the best time to see this dust.

As darkness falls, look for a faint pyramid of light spreading upward from the western horizon over a large area of the sky. This is the zodiacal light, which is sunlight reflected from trillions of dust particles left behind in space by comets and asteroids that orbit the sun in the same plane as the planets. Observers at mid-northern latitudes may be able to see the zodiacal light after evening twilight ends March 14 to 28.

Moon phases

The moon will be at first quarter on March 5, full on March 12, at third quarter on March 20 and new on March 27.

Related Links

Zodiacal light seen from Paranal Observatory in Chile.

Zodiacal light seen from Paranal Observatory in Chile. | Photo by Wikimedia Commons

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Media Contacts

Hal Kibbey

  • Office 812-336-1333
  • hkibbey@indiana.edu