A global view of Venus

A global view of Venus

In March, the Evening Star becomes a morning planet

Venus will sink fairly rapidly in the sky during the month as it transitions from being our ‘Evening Star’ to our ‘Morning Star.’

Unfortunately we don’t have any meteor showers in March, but we still have the Zodiacal Light in the sky just after sunset. March 14 to 28 are supposed to be the best days to see it. Remember that you are looking for a faint cone-shaped glow in the west after sunset. Hopefully we have some clear skies.

Venus will sink fairly rapidly in the sky during the month as it transitions from being our ‘Evening Star’ to our ‘Morning Star.’ By mid-March it will have disappeared behind our mountains and hills. Because it is so bright, you should still be able to see it if you have an unobstructed view west. Since our sister planet is passing between the Sun and Earth on March 15 it will start to appear in the morning. You might be able to see Venus both as the morning and the evening star from a very flat location. By March 31, Venus should be rising one hour before dawn.

Mercury will be slowly increasing in height in the west during the month, making it slightly more visible. On the evening of March 29, Mercury will be in the sky with Mars and the razor-thin crescent moon. They will almost form a right triangle, with the moon as the near-right angle, Mars above to the right, and Mercury below to the right. It is not the most compact triangle, but is a great chance to see the notoriously elusive Mercury.

Mars will remain in the sky all month. Starting in the west it will move slightly eastward. On March 1, it will be in the sky with a crescent moon and Venus about an hour after sunset — a good time for a photo. If you look towards Mars on March 1 with 7 x 50 or 10 x 50 binoculars, look below it and you should be able to spot Uranus. Uranus will start the month near Mars, but will disappear into the sunset by mid-March and won’t be visible again until mornings in the late spring.

Jupiter appears around the southeastern horizon at about 9 p.m. in early March. It will rise earlier each night, and by the end of the month it will be rising at dusk. It will also brighten ever so slightly as it moves closer to us during the month. Only the Moon and Venus will shine brighter than Jupiter. The end of March is a good time to take a look at Jupiter through a telescope. Even a low-powered telescope will allow you to see the Great Red Spot — a storm the size of Earth — provided that side of the planet is facing you. If you don’t see the spot, don’t worry. You will see it another night, or even later that same night, because Jupiter’s day is only 10 hours long.

Saturn is an early riser, appearing in the south around 2:30 a.m. on March 1. Those of you awake at that time might want to take a look through binoculars at this planet. A look through a telescope will show that the rings are now appearing above the planet’s north pole because they are tilted at 26 degrees to our line of sight. You should also see the planet’s shadow fall on the western side of the rings behind Saturn.

Just for fun I thought I’d give you the albedo of each planet. Albedo is the percentage of light reflected off a planet. Mercury reflects 10 per cent, while Venus reflects 65 per cent, Earth 37 per cent, Mars 15 per cent, Jupiter 52 per cent, Saturn 47 per cent, Uranus 51 per cent, and Neptune 41 per cent. Our Moon sits at 12 per cent, which is about the same amount as a pine forest here on Earth.