The Sky This Month March 2023

Look low in the west on March 22 for Jupiter and a crescent Moon, less than 2° apart. They set about 70 minutes after the Sun. The following evening, the Moon hangs 6° below Venus in another lovely pairing. Try photographing this scene in twilight with interesting foreground objects to create an artistic silhouette against the sky.

As a prelude to the Venus-Uranus conjunction, the wandering crescent Moon and Uranus stand less than 1.5° apart on March 24. Grab binoculars to view the lovely crescent Moon, then scan southward to find the dim planet shining at magnitude 5.8. Uranus is close to a 7th-magnitude field star just 4′ away. Attentive observers in some U.S. locations will spot the disappearance and reappearance of 6th-magnitude Rho (ρ) Arietis in an occultation by the Moon that takes place from approximately 7:30 P.M. to 8:10 P.M. local time. (You’ll want to check precise predictions, as whether the event is visible and its exact timing are affected by your geographic location.)

By March 30, Venus is in conjunction with Uranus. With binoculars, you can find Uranus standing 1.2° due south of Venus. Venus now shows a 78-percent-lit gibbous disk spanning 14″. The much more distant Uranus (20.45 AU; 1.9 billion miles) spans 3″. The following night, the last evening of March, the two planets are still less than 2° apart. They set before 10:30 P.M. local time, so plan your viewing soon after dark.

Uranus is an easy binocular target all month, starting March near Sigma (σ) and Pi (≠) Arietis, a pair of 5th-magnitude stars about 12° due north of Menkar in Cetus the Whale. On March 1, the planet is located midway between these two stars; from night to night, it wanders northeastward. It passes close to a 6th-magnitude field star on March 15, then enjoys its meeting with the Moon on the 24th and with Venus on the 30th.

Mars blazes brightly in Taurus the Bull, outshining magnitude 0.9 Aldebaran for most of March and ultimately fading to match the red giant star by the end of the month. The Red Planet’s nightly path carries it roughly midway between the horns of the Bull, marked by the stars Zeta (ζ) and Beta (β) Tauri, on March 11. It crosses into Gemini March 26.

In the first week of March, Mars spans 8″. During this week, the features facing earthward around midevening include the Tharsis ridge and Olympus Mons. By mid-March, the planet has shrunk to 7″ and Valles Marineris and Solis Lacus are prominent. In the third week of March, Sinus Meridiani and Sinus Sabaeus are on display.

On March 29, Mars stands 1.1° due north of the fine open star cluster M35 in Gemini. The view in binoculars is worthwhile, and a rich-field telescope reveals a star-studded field of view along with the brilliant orange glow of Mars, now magnitude 0.9. The prominent dark feature Syrtis Major is coming onto the Earth-facing disk at the end of March during early evenings.

The best views of Mars occur a couple of hours after sunset, with Mars very high in the sky. By the end of March, Mars sets before 2:30 A.M., allowing ample time for observers to test their skills on a tiny disk.

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