Last month Venus began a swan dive into the sunset, and in March the brilliant planet completes it.
Last month Venus began a swan dive into the sunset, and in March the brilliant planet completes it. Better look before mid-month if you want to see Venus in full glory, because in the third week of March it will be all but swallowed by the sun's glare.
But as Venus sinks into the sunset, Mercury pops up from it. Look for the elusive planet to the left of Venus half an hour after sunset on the 19th; after then, Venus leaves Mercury to shine by itself low in the west. If you have trouble finding it, Mercury will be to the lower right of a crescent moon on March 29—on that date, try looking about 40 minutes after sunset.
Mercury is coming out from behind the sun, chasing Venus. Soon both planets will swoop between Earth and the sun: Venus on March 25, Mercury on April 20.
Jupiter, a yellowish beacon, rises in the east during the evening hours. By month's end it'll clear the horizon less than an hour after sunset. The giant planet also dominates the predawn sky, shining below Arcturus, the bright anchor of Bootes, the herdsman. Meanwhile, in the south, Saturn hovers over the Teapot of Sagittarius, just to the left of the red star Antares, the heart of Scorpius.
The knot of bright winter constellations is making its way westward across the evening sky. Sirius, the brightest of stars, is still fairly high in the south an hour after sunset. If you've never beheld the whole panoply of winter constellations, grab a star chart now, because March is the last good month to see these stars in the evening.
The full moon arrives at 9:54 a.m. on the 12th. Unfortunately, the moon will have set by then. To be sure of seeing it, look the evening of the 11th, or before 7 a.m. on the 12th. Remember that full or nearly full moons appear in the west in the morning. March's full moon was known to many Algonquin Indians as the worm moon, for the little critters that start to appear with the softening ground.
Spring slips in with the vernal equinox at 5:29 a.m. on March 20. At that moment the sun crosses the equator into the northern sky and our planet is lighted from pole to pole. This is also the time when the sun moves most rapidly northward, bringing increasing day length to the Northern Hemisphere.
The University of Minnesota offers public viewings of the night sky at its Duluth and Twin Cities campuses. For more information and viewing schedules, see: Duluth, Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium: www.d.umn.edu/planet ; Twin Cities, Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics: www.astro.umn.edu/outreach/pubnight ; Check out the astronomy programs at the University of Minnesota's Bell Museum ExploraDome: http://www.bellmuseum.umn.edu/exploradome ; Find U of M astronomers and links to the world of astronomy at http://www.astro.umn.edu.