Early risers will be greeted with a celestial alignment in March with the moon falling in line with several planets on the morning of March 8.
Jupiter, Mars, Saturn and Pluto will be spread across the southern sky before sunrise throughout much of March, starting with bright Jupiter high in the southern sky, and ending with Pluto to the southeast However, Pluto is too dim to see with the unaided eye.
“Of the planets, Jupiter rises the earliest, around midnight [local time], followed by Mars at 2 a.m. and Saturn at 3 a.m.,” AccuWeather Astronomy Blogger Dave Samuhel said.
The moon will pass by the planets over the course of several nights through the middle of March, falling right in line between Jupiter and Mars before dawn on March 8.
If the weather does not cooperate and clouds obscure the alignment on morning of March 8, stargazers will still have plenty of opportunities to see the moon as it passes by the planets.
“On March 7, [the moon] will be closest to Jupiter, on March 9 it will be closest to Mars, and on the March 10 it will be near Saturn,” Samuhel said.
Jupiter, Mars and Saturn are all visible with the naked eye, but Pluto is much dimmer and requires the use of a telescope to see.
This can make Pluto difficult to find, but on March 12, the Moon will be sitting just to the left of the dwarf planet. The Moon will serve as a reference point for onlookers, making it easier to spot through a telescope.
Not only will those with a telescope be able to see Pluto, but also details of Jupiter and Saturn.
With a simple telescope or good pair of binoculars and a steady hand, stargazers focusing on Jupiter can spot its four largest moons; Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.
The location of the moons will vary from night to night and some may not be able to be seen when they are passing in front of or behind the gas giant.
Those turning their telescopes to Saturn may be able to see the planet’s famous rings.
As the year progresses, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars will gradually grow brighter and rise above the horizon earlier in the night. This will provide ample opportunities for people to view these planets in the coming months.
This year will be a good year for viewing Mars as it approaches opposition, or the point in its orbit when it is closest to the Earth.
This year in particular will be favorable for viewing Mars as it will be the closest it has been to Earth since 2003.
“Mars will become brighter every night in advance of its very close approach to [Earth] in July,” Samuhel said.”
Despite its close approach, Mars will remain a small point of light in the sky, but will set itself apart from the countless stars by glowing rusty orange in color