After a long sojourn as the “morning star,” we say goodbye to Venus as it sinks below the early morning eastern horizon. We will next encounter Venus as the “evening star” on the western horizon in mid-April.
Mercury, currently in conjunction with the Sun, emerges low on the east-southeastern horizon beginning on the 20th and joining Jupiter and Saturn in the pre-dawn sky.
Mars continues to dominate the early evening sky being almost directly overhead at sunset. Be sure to catch it on the 18th as it will be visited by the waxing crescent Moon with only 3 ½ degrees separating them. That is close enough so that both will be in the same field of view if you use ordinary binoculars. You might also notice that the bright white glow of the Moon seems to make Mars appear a little redder in hue.
Jupiter and Saturn return to the pre-dawn sky as early as the 14th, but will be difficult to see as they rise only a few moments before the Sun in the south-southeastern sky. Joined by Mercury on the 20th, this trio of planets will form a grouping that will last several days. Then Mercury will begin to sink lower towards the horizon while Jupiter and Saturn slowly climb higher into the early morning sky. A good pair of binoculars will enhance viewing of this early morning trio.
The Moon will be last quarter on the 4th, new on the 11th, first quarter on the 19th, and full on the 27th. Looking south on the 18th, about an hour after sunset and almost overhead, the almost first quarter Moon will be below and slightly to the left of the red planet Mars. There are no other Moon/planet encounters this month. However, a planetary triple threat will appear on the morning of the 25th. Look to the east-southeast about a ½ hour before sunrise to see Jupiter, Mercury, and Saturn hovering just above the horizon.
Due to the closure of New Mexico Tech because of COVID-19 virus concerns, there WILL NOT be a first Saturday of the month star party at the Etscorn Campus Observatory.
Stay safe and Clear Skies!
Jon Spargo, New Mexico Tech Astronomy Club