On March 27, a planetary show consisting of Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Mars and Uranus will walk across the sky.
At this particular time of year, astronomy buffs take part in the Messier Marathon. Originally by the late comet hunter, Don Mashholzit will happen soon new Moonand within a week or so of vernal Equinox.
During this particular time of year, all 110 different deep sky objects that French astronomer Charles Messier has cataloged come into view. Those with telescopes and a good knowledge of the sky, would stay up from dusk till dawn, looking for and recording as many things as they could. Occasionally, there is an organized marathon scheduled, as is the case lately International Star Party In Flagstaff, Arizona. Even for diligent amateur astronomers, Messier’s marathon presents a notable observational challenge.
Related: Night sky, March 2023: What you can see tonight
A different type of challenge will be thrown for sky lovers on the evening of March 27th. Maybe we can chant the 1986 hit song by The Bangles, because that night will truly be “Crazy Monday” as there will be a chance to catch a spectacle of five planets, a famous star cluster, and the moon all in one night.
But like the Messier Marathon, packing all of that stuff in is going to be a challenge, especially with some planets.
In fact, I would highly suggest that you set up an observation post with a clear, unobstructed view of the western horizon if you hope to see two of these worlds far away. Make sure that there are no tall objects — buildings or trees — in that direction. Your best option is to look at a west-facing coastline that is completely flat and wide open with nothing blocking your view.
Also, be sure to get good binoculars, as they will be very helpful in your vision. The best kind is either a 7×35 or a 7×50. The first number indicates the magnification—in either case, “7 power.” The second number indicates the size of the objective lens – the large lens at the front of the binoculars – measured in millimeters.
If you want to take a look at the parade of planets, our guides to The best telescopes And best binoculars Great place to start. If you’re looking to take pictures of the night sky in general, check out our guide on How to visualize the moonAnd so do we The best cameras for astrophotography And The best lenses for astrophotography.
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Interestingly, our first two planets are studies in contrast. One is the smallest planet (Mercury) and the other is the largest (Jupiter).
Once a suitable viewing site has been found, and with binoculars in hand, wait until approximately 20 to 25 minutes afterward. the sun He put. And the viewing time will be short. The two planets will cross the horizon after just 25 to 30 minutes.
Both planets will shine brilliantly, Mercury will glow in Magnitude -1.4, which is negligible less than Siriusthe brightest star in the sky. Jupiter It will appear most dazzling at magnitude -2.1, which is twice as bright as Mercury. But what will make vision problematic is that both can be very difficult to see through the bright evening twilight.
This is where your binoculars come in.
Your best chance of capturing both planets is at first by slowly sweeping along the western horizon with binoculars. Then after you hope you find them, look for them with the naked eye. Mercury will be to the right of brighter Jupiter. On the evening of March 27, they will be separated by just 1.3 degrees (just over the width of one finger at arm’s length).
If you watched them, congratulate yourself. It’s no mean feat to capture two planets centered near sunset. In just a day or two, Jupiter will disappear from view in the sun’s glare. On the other hand, Mercury will move away from the circumference of the sun and will become easy to see over the next two weeks.
Unlike Mercury and Jupiter, the third planet on our list would be very easy to spot: amazing VenusWhat’s called “evening star(although “beacon of the evening” might be a better term). It is the first planet to be searched for when the sun goes down. Venus is becoming increasingly prominent as it slowly rises in the western evening sky with each passing night. Now, it sets around 10:15 PM local daylight saving time. But two months from now, Venus will be significantly higher in the west-northwest sky about an hour after sunset, and it won’t set until about midnight.
A planet racing away
The fourth planet on our list is Mars. several months ago, Mars shone brilliantly Because it was relatively close to Land; Back on November 30, it was 50.6 million miles from us and looked like a very bright fiery star, shining with a steady glow. A week later, like two race cars spinning on a track, we passed Mars in our own orbits—Earth on the inside and Mars on the outside. And since then, we’ve left Mars far behind—in the side-view mirror, we talked about earlier.
On March 27, Mars will be 131.4 million miles (211.4 million km) from Earth — more than 2.5 times farther than it was late last fall. It has correspondingly faded, appearing only 1/13th brighter than in early December. However, it is still somewhat conspicuous since it is still among the 21st The brightest star In terms of brightness.
And you can recognize it immediately, just by looking at our fifth heavenly bodies in the evening, the moon. On this night, our natural satellite will resemble a fat crescent phase. And if you look at the upper left of the Moon, the bright yellow-orange “star” would be Mars.
Have a life saver!
Now, use your binoculars again, look far to the left of Mars and you’ll notice M35, a star cluster in the Gemini constellation. It ranks fifth on my list A personal favorite is Deep in the Sky in Winter Skies. Longtime deep sky columnist for Sky & Telescope, Walter Scott Houston wrote: (Opens in a new tab) “I feel like M35 is one of the greatest objects in the sky. Observers with small telescopes will find it remarkable. The cluster appears as big as the Moon and fills the lens with a glint of bright stars from center to edge. Using 15×65 binoculars was like life-saving fat candy, all of it white and shiny.”
The seventh planet from the sun
Our fifth and final planet is the next planet to emerge from the sun: Uranus.
It can hardly be seen with the naked eye on very dark and clear nights, use Venus as a benchmark to find it. On Monday it will be only three degrees – about a third the width of your clenched fist at arm’s length – to the upper left of that dazzling planet. Again, use your binoculars to scan this area of the sky. What you’ll be looking for is a faint star, but the hint will be its faint green colour. This would be the third largest and next to the planet Neptunethe farthest planet from the sun.
There you have it: five planets, a famous star cluster, and the moon. Do you think you’ll be able to see all seven? As we noted, some of them will be easy but others will be more difficult. If the sky is clear on Monday evening, good luck and a good catch!
Joe Rao is a teacher and guest lecturer in New York Hayden Planetarium (Opens in a new tab). He writes about astronomy for Natural History Journal (Opens in a new tab)the Farmers’ almanac (Opens in a new tab) and other publications. Follow us on Twitter @employee (Opens in a new tab) and on Facebook (Opens in a new tab).
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