March roars in like a lion full of planetary events: Venus illuminates the heavens before dawn and a bright Jupiter hangs out all night.
To start March, Venus rises before dawn around 5:40 a.m. in the east-southeastern sky low on the horizon. This ebullient planet hangs in the constellation Capricornus with a negative-3.9 magnitude (very bright). If you walk the dog early March 7, catch an elderly, waning crescent moon meeting Venus before sunrise. By mid-March, our bright neighboring planet rises around 6:30 a.m. — just ahead of the sun.
That evening, the big and boisterous Jupiter takes command like a greaser teen hanging out at Mel’s burger drive-in. The huge planet reaches opposition March 8. Think of opposition as you would a full moon, but it’s a full Jupiter. It’s a very bright negative-2.5-magnitude object. The gassy planet rises in the east at 5:56 p.m. March 8, according to the U.S. Naval Observatory, crosses the meridian 22 minutes after midnight and sets at 6:43 a.m. After the daylight saving time change, Jupiter rises at 6:24 p.m. in mid-March. The fat, gibbous moon greets Jupiter on March 21.
Mars and Saturn arrive later in the night. Mars rises in the east-southeast about 12:15 a.m. now, loitering in the constellation Libra, at zero magnitude (not very bright). While the giant, ringed Saturn rises about 1:40 a.m. now, snuggled between the constellations Ophiuchus and Scorpius, also at zero magnitude.
Spring ahead: On Sunday, March 13 at 2 a.m., turn your clocks forward one hour as we move to daylight saving time. We’ll retreat to standard time during the first weekend in November. Speaking of spring, it officially starts March 20 early in the morning, according to the U.S. Naval Observatory.
When the total solar eclipse occurs March 8, the sun will be on the other side of world — focused on Indonesia and the South Pacific Ocean. To watch the eclipse from here, go online and see it live on Slooh.com; you can tune in starting at 6 p.m.
Two weeks after the total solar eclipse, the western United States can witness a feeble penumbral lunar eclipse March 23. At the height of this weak eclipse, the moon darkens slightly. To an unsuspecting eye, it looks like a normal full moon. The deepest part of this eclipse occurs at 4:48 a.m. PDT, according to NASA.
●March 5 — Astronomer Brian Hicks talks about exoplanets — planets that are beyond our solar system — at the University of Maryland Observatory, College Park. 8 p.m. See the night sky through telescopes afterward, weather permitting. www.astro.umd.edu/openhouse .
●March 7 — “Stars Tonight,” at the David M. Brown Planetarium, 1426 N. Quincy St., Arlington. 7:30 p.m. General, $5; children/elderly $3.
●March 12 — Explore “Women in Aviation and Space Day” at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, 14390 Air and Space Museum Pkwy., Chantilly, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Free admission. Parking, $15. airandspace.si.edu .
●March 12 — “Cosmic Crashes: The Many Facets of Neutron Star Collisions,” a talk by NASA research scientist Eleonora Troja at the regular meeting of the National Capital Astronomers, University of Maryland Observatory, College Park. 7:30 p.m.
●March 13 — Mark Kochte, mission analyst at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, discusses the New Horizons mission at the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club, 163 Research Hall, George Mason University. 7 p.m. novac.com .
●March 20 — “The Vernal Equinox: The First Day of Spring,” a presentation at the Montgomery College planetarium, Takoma Park, 7 p.m. montgomerycollege.edu/departments/planet .
●March 20 — “Active Galactic Nuclei: Shining a Light on Supermassive Black Holes and Galaxy Evolution,” a talk by astronomer Taro Shimizu at the University of Maryland Observatory, College Park. 8 p.m. Gaze at the heavens afterward, weather permitting. www.astro.umd.edu/openhouse .
●March 31 — “Building Stars, Planets and the Ingredients for Life in Space,” the John N. Bahcall Lecture by Ewine F. van Dishoeck of the Leiden Observatory, Netherlands. She examines the discovery of planets around stars other than our sun, 8 p.m. at the Airbus Imax Theater, Udvar-Hazy Center, Chantilly. airandspace.si.edu. Free tickets: airandspace.si.edu/events/tickets .
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