This month we witness a flip-flop of the giant planets Jupiter and Saturn.
As Jupiter edges closer to the western horizon, we will be able to see a couple of close encounters, first with Venus and then with Mercury. If you look to the west on the evening of the 1st of March, Jupiter at magnitude -2.1, and Venus, at magnitude -3.9, will have a close encounter, passing within ½ degree of each other. Then on the 27th comes the second close encounter; when Jupiter is only a day or so away from disappearing below the western horizon, this time with Mercury, at magnitude -1.4, which is beginning its ascent into the western evening sky. There will be more about Mercury next month. Using binoculars, about 45 minutes after sunset, you may view this encounter barely above the horizon.
Saturn reappears in the early morning pre-dawn sky in the middle of this month. If you find the waning crescent moon on the morning of the 19th, it will be about 5 degrees below Saturn and just above the eastern horizon. Five degrees is about half the width of your fist held at arm’s length.
The moon will be full on the 7th, last quarter on the 15th, new on the 21st, and first quarter on the 29th. Looking to the western horizon on the 22nd through the 24th, about 45 minutes after sunset, the new crescent moon, on the 22nd, will be hovering just above Jupiter. On the 23rd, the crescent moon will be below Venus and on the 24th, above Venus.
There are two dates to keep in mind this month. On Sunday the 12th at 2 a.m. we will need to remember to spring forward and add one hour to our watches, clocks and computers as Daylight Savings Time begins for most of us in the U.S. and Canada. On the 20th, at 3:24 p.m. MDT, Earth will reach the vernal equinox signaling the official start of spring for the Northern Hemisphere.
There will not be a first Saturday star party at the Etscorn Campus Observatory this month.
Jon Spargo is part of the New Mexico Tech Astronomy Club