All month long the brightest planets in the heavens, Venus and Jupiter, have been putting on a great planetary play high in the west just after sunset. A couple of weeks ago they came stunningly close to each other – appearing side by side in the sky, and now as they slowly drift apart they have a grand finale in store for skywatchers.
As a prelude to the main act to come, start by watching Saturday, March 24 for all the main cosmic actors – star-like Venus at just 105 million km away is brighter and higher up than 870 million km distant Jupiter. The trickiest to find however will be a razor-thin waxing crescent moon, only 400,000 km from Earth, which will appear hidden in the glow of the sunset, quite low to the western horizon – to the lower right of the planets.
By the following evening, March 25, the moon will have jumped considerably higher in the sky for a wonderfully close meeting with the king of the planets, Jupiter. The pair will be separated by only 1.5 degrees- about the width of your little finger held at arm’s length.
Then on March 26, the moon snuggles up with the goddess of love, Venus. While the planet is actually 250 times farther than our neighbouring satellite, the two will appear to the naked eye to be spectacularly close in the sky at only 2.5 degrees apart – that’s a little less than the width of your three middle fingers held at arm’s length.
Then in one final curtain call, on March 27th the moon will continue its trek higher up in the evening sky and park itself next to the brilliant orange star Aldebaran. Representing the eye of Taurus the bull this red giant star is 65 light years from Earth. Those with keen eyes may notice to the lower right of the moon is a faint hazy patch of light – that’s the Pleiades open star cluster. Binoculars will help you resolve some of the brighter members of this 400 light year distant stellar nursery.
In case it does get cloudy in your neck of the woods then why not check out the show online with live video feeds and expert commentary from telescopes sites around the world.
Skywatching extra: Anyone with a telescope equipped with a digital imager may want to keep an eye on Mars next few days. According to Sky and Telescope website, starting on March 20th, reports from backyard astronomers are abuzz about what appears to be a new unknown visible feature extending out along the Red Planet’s southern hemisphere. While speculations on its origins are still running rampant, hopes are that NASA’s Mars orbiters may be put into action to follow-up on this mysterious and unusual event.
Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heave