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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Planetary conjunctions continuing

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The month of March will be a very busy one for astronomical observation. What began last week with a series of conjunctions between the moon and several planets now continues with more close conjunctions, this time between planets.

On Tuesday, March 6, an almost-full moon and Mars will finish out this series of conjunctions. The moon will be back in planet-meeting mode at the end of March, passing Venus and Jupiter again.

Today also begins a seven-day meeting between tiny Mercury and the outer gas giant planet, Uranus.

Start looking low in the west about a half-hour to 45-minutes after sunset. The pair are still in the after-glow of sunset, so binoculars will be needed to bring them out.

They will be at their closest on Saturday and Sunday, March third and fourth.

Also on Saturday, the planet Mars will reach opposition; that means it will be opposite the sun in the sky and will rise at sunset and set at sunrise and be visible all night. It also marks the closest Mars will be to us for two and a half years.

Look east about an hour after sunset for the bright reddish dot. It is located just below the constellation Leo, the Lion.

Keep your eyes on Mars for the next month, as it moves westward against the background stars toward Regulus, the brightest star in Leo, the Lion.

Speaking of Leo, it is the first spring constellation to rise over the eastern horizon. Orion and the winter crew have now passed into the western part of the sky and will continue their downhill journey toward the horizon.

By 11 p.m. MST, another planet joins the evening crew. Ringed Saturn will be visible above the eastern horizon near the star Spica, the brightest star in Virgo, the Maiden.

This week, six of the brightest objects in the night sky are visible. Starting from the west Mercury, Venus, Jupiter and the moon.

In the south, below and left of Orion, is the very bright star, Sirius, in Canis Major, and in the east the planet Mars.

During the second week of March, the Globe at Night organization will be holding another sky survey to see how dark the sky really is. Information and material for reporting are available by pointing your favorite web browser to www.globeatnight.org.

In February, we used Orion for the star comparison. In March and again in April, Leo will be the object for observation.

The task is quite simple. Just pick a location -- it doesn't necessarily need to be dark -- and compare what you see with the provided background charts.

Then report your observations back to the organization online. This can be a fun thing to do as a family.

SKY WATCH: The moon was at first-quarter yesterday.

NEXT WEEK: More about the Jupiter and Venus meeting, what retrograde means and more astronomical blathering.

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