Jupiter is the brightest of the bunch at -2 magnitude, according to the U.S. Naval Observatory, but hugs the horizon. The more distant, large, ringed Saturn sits at +0.7 magnitude, visible in a darker sky, while Mercury, visible now for a short stay, is a hint brighter than Saturn at +0.1 magnitude.
The swift Mercury, dimmer than Jupiter, is within a third of a degree of Jupiter for a close conjunction on the morning of March 5. Saturn remains nearby to the upper right of Jupiter and Mercury.
As the sun rises about 6:30 a.m. early in March, those planets get washed out as daylight progresses.
Within days of the conjunction, Mercury begins scooting away from the gas giants, but not before the fingernail crescent of the last quarter moon passes the planetary trio before sunrise March 8.
The faint moon saunters past Saturn, Jupiter and Mercury from March 9 through 11. The moon becomes new March 13, then returns to the evening western heavens soon after. Enjoy Jupiter and Saturn, near the east-southeast horizon in the morning, for the remainder of March.
As Earth’s neighbor Mars handles more traffic, with a new rover Perseverance at Jezero Crater (mars.nasa.gov/mars2020), gaze to the southwest in the early evening to find the dim Red Planet — hanging out in the constellation Taurus.
Mars starts March at +0.9 magnitude, but it ends the month even dimmer at +1.2 magnitude, according to the observatory. It’s hard to see, as it might look like a red microscopic pinhole punctuating the sky.
Mars zips through the invisible limbo pole between the Pleiades (Messier 45) star cluster on Taurus’s left shoulder and the Hyades star cluster, in the location of the bull’s face, around the dates surrounding March 7.
But look around the southern region in the evening to enjoy the H shape of the Orion constellation, high after dusk. Above Orion’s right shoulder are the Gemini twins, featuring the stars Castor and Pollux. Below Gemini, you can spy the bright Sirius, the dog star in the constellation Canis Major.
Daylight saving time officially starts at 2 a.m. on March 14, when we turn our clocks forward an hour. (We return to standard time Nov. 7.) The vernal equinox occurs at 5:37 a.m. on March 20, according to the Naval Observatory, ushering in the official start to spring.
The full moon arrives March 28.
● March 5 — “Building the Giant Magellan Telescope,” an online lecture by James Fanson, project manager for the high-resolution telescope in the Atacama Desert in Chile. The first light will be 2029. Hosted by PSW Science. 8 p.m. For registration: pswscience.org.
● March 13 — “Astronomical Spectra With Your Own Telescope,” an online talk by Tom Field of Field Tested Systems, hosted by the National Capital Astronomers. 7 p.m. For registration: capitalastronomers.org.
● March 23 — “Mars 2020 and the Importance of Planetary Protection,” an online lecture by Moogega Cooper of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Hosted by the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. For registration: airandspace.si.edu, then go to “Visit” and “Events.”
● March 30 — “Exoplanets and the Search for Habitable Worlds,” an online lecture by Sara Seager, professor of planetary science and physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Hosted by Carnegie Science. 5 p.m. For registration: carnegiescience.edu/events.