Mar 12

Sky Report: March 14-20


The planets, including some too close to the sun to see, 40 min before sunrise on the morning of March 17.
The ground below the horizon is translucent so you can see what is there. The official constellation boundaries are included.
Graphic created withSkySafariAstronomy.com.

Around the new year we had an abundance of planets in the evening sky, but now all the action is in the morning. That won’t daunt true stargazers. And the action is pretty good. All is helped by the fact that we’re now on Daylight Time so just as the sun sets an hour later, it inevitably rises an hour later, and you don’t have to stagger out at an unreasonable hour to see the morning sky.

First, Venus, the “Morning Star”, is brilliant low in the southeast. Venus is at its greatest angular separation – 47° — from the sun on the 20th, so this is the middle of the season to observe it.

Use Venus to find two much fainter planets near it. Mars is to Venus’ lower right at the 4 o’clock position, and the two planets remain within 5° of each other from March 1st through 26th, and they’re closest on March 15. Mars is only 1/200th as bright as Venus but you’ll spot it. They’re a fine although lopsided pair in binoculars.

Saturn is roughly twice as far from Venus as Mars, and it’s to the 7 o’clock position. Saturn is five times fainter than Mars. The cool thing is that Saturn is heading directly for the other two planets and they’ll form a wonderful compact triangle next week. Stay tuned … or look ahead with an astronomy app like SkySafari.

These planets are in Capricornus, a constellation with no bright stars to compete with them. The summer Milky Way, which is the brightest part, is directly above them, but sadly the bright moon ruins the view. Next week. The moon is in Leo on the mornings of the 15, 16, and 17, and then in Virgo on the 18, 19, and 20.

The bright star straight above the planets is Altair in Aquila and the bright star straight above Altair is Vega in Lyra and nearly overhead. These are stars of the summer sky.

Spring begins at 8:33 am MDT on March 20. There’s nothing to see at this spring, or vernal, equinox, but you do experience it: on the two equinoxes the sun rises due east and sets due west and the days and nights are each 12 hours long. (“Equinox” comes from Latin for “equal night”.) It’s also the day when the sun crosses the earth’s equator; on this day, on the equator, the sun stands directly overhead at local noon. For the last six months the sun has risen and set south of east and west; now it rises and sets north of east and west, the days are longer than the nights, and the sun takes a higher path across our sky. From the North Pole this is when the sun sets and from the South Pole it’s when the sun rises. The situation is reversed in the Southern Hemisphere where this is their autumnal equinox and the first day of fall.


Thanks to a 2021 grant from the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity and the Kane County Office of Tourism, Stellar Vista Observatory offers portable telescopes and tripod mounted binocular kits on loan for free to all residents of Kane County. Nothing beats a quality binocular or astronomical telescope to enhance enjoyment of the night sky! Visit https://stellarvistaobservatory.org/discover-the-night-sky/ or Kanab City Library for full details.

The Sky Report is presented as a public service by the Stellar Vista Observatory, a nonprofit organization based in Kanab, Utah, which provides opportunities for people to observe, appreciate, and comprehend our starry night sky. Additional information is at www.stellarvistaobservatory.org. Send questions and comments to John@StargazingAdventures.org.

About the Author:

John Mosley was Program Supervisor of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles for 27 years and is the author of “Stargazing for Beginners” and “Stargazing with Binoculars and Telescopes”. He and his wife live in St. George where he continues to stargaze from his retirement home while serving on the advisory committee for Stellar Vista Observatory.

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