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Celestial News and Happenings

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On this page I will post articles and links to upcoming astronomical events, so be sure and check them out and then mark your observing calendar!

NOTE: The links at the bottom of this page will open a new browser window with more information on what's visible for the month including comets and asteroids.

The Solar System in March 2008

Mercury - Mercury is peeking out over the eastern horizon in early March (see "Crescent Moon", below); on March 5 it is paired with VENUS (much brighter) along with the very thin crescent moon in bright dawn skies. On March 3, Mercury is at its greatest elongation west of the Sun (in our eastern sky) and thus this week would be a fairly favorable opportunity to glimpse the planet, which appears about "half-illuminated" when viewed in a small telescope. in CAPRICORNUS.

Venus - Joining tiny Mercury at pre-sunrise dawn, much brighter Venus is exiting stage east this month. Although very bright, this is an unfavorable period to view Venus telescopically, since it will never attain much altitude from the horizon until after sunrise throughout March At magnitude -3.9, Venus will appear to be "gibbous phase" in even the smallest telescopes.- in CAPRICORNUS

Mars - Well past its prime showing in late 2007, Mars is now diminising in both brightness and size as we see it from Earth. When the skies get dark each evening, Mars will be the dominant reddish "star" south of overhead for northern observers. NOTE one interesting event concerning Mars this month: for several days on both sides of March 10, look for this brilliant red orb to be very close to the beautiful open star cluster Messier 35, clearly visible in small telescopes and even binoculars; a wonderful group event would be to monitor the eastward motion of Mars throughout a week period as it moves 2 degrees north of the cluster over a week period. - In GEMINI

Jupiter - After spending several weeks in conjunction with the sun in early 2008, Jupiter has now re-emerged strongly into the dawn eastern skies; look for the mightiest of planets to rise in the east about two hours before the sun; telescopically, Jupiter is very disappointing this month, but will increase its lure throughout the summer of this year. An interesting view of Jupiter on March 31 will show a "fifth moon" (you can normally see FOUR of the larger moons of Jupiter in even small telescopes), when a star - "50 Sagittarii" - joins the four "normal" moons and presents an interesting view for those used to seeing only four small orbs accompanying the king of planets - In SAGITTARIUS

Saturn - The ringed planet is now high in the eastern sky at dark, and very favorably placed for telescopic views of its magnificent ring system by 10 p.m. local time. As it has been all winter, the ringed planet is located only a few degrees from the very distinctive "Sickle" asterism of the head of LEO the Lion. Saturn's slow eastward motion will take it to within three degrees of the dominant star of Leo, the Lion, this month and the planet will outshine the star by a full magnitude - in LEO

Uranus - This distant planet is just past conjunction with the sun and is not favorably viewable in March 2008 - in AQUARIUS.

Neptune - Those with large telescopes might be able to glimpse this distant planet in morning twilight, very low in the SE sky at dawn - in CAPRICORNUS.

Pluto - Now in southern skies viewable far in the SSE skies during morning hours, rising about three hours ahead of the sun; a telescope is needed to view this 14th magnitude distant planet - In southern OPHIUCHUS

note: to locate the three outer planets, use the charts from a good planetarium PC program!

The Solar System in April 2008

NOTE: The gas giant JUPITER is emerging in the morning skies, while ringed Saturn graces the sky nearly overhead at around 10 p.m. local time; Venus dominates the western sky after sunset while Uranus and Neptune are now rising in pre-dawn skies but somewhat difficult to find; Pluto is high overhead at sunrise.

Mercury - At Superior Conunction on April 16, little planet Mercury quickly pops out in the western sky in late April for the best viewing of this elusive planet in 2008. Since Mercury is very close to the sun, look for this planet only 9 degrees (the distance across the "Big Dipper" is 15 degrees by comparison) above the WNW horizon some 30 minutes after sunset....binoculars will assist in locating this bright starlike planet. In Aries

Venus - Now approaching conjunction with the sun in early morning skies, Venus is very difficult to spot in bright dawn twilight. Look for it early in the month, very close to the eastern horizon in bright twilight. Venus not be visible for many months until it returns in the EVENING sky in August 2008. In Pisces

Mars - After a close encounter with Earth in late 2007, Mars is now receding rapidly and is dimming equally fast; watch this very red planet in the constellation of GEMINI throughout April, when it passes from the twin Castor into Pollux by May 1; the red planet is very much equal in brightness and color to the bright star POLLUX in Gemini, that star being the more east of the two twin stars Castor and Pollux - In Gemini

Jupiter - Now re-emerging for another exciting visit to our skies in summer 2008, look for Jupiter low in the southeast in morning skies at dawn; as in 2007, Jupiter will be at a very low southerly angle for observers in the northern hemipshere and hence views will not be as sharp as many would like. - In Sagittarius

Saturn - Saturn is our "planet of the month", already rising as skies get dark; look for the ringed beauty in the SSE skies at dark and overhead at midnight, very favorably placed for telescopic viewing. Note that yellowish Saturn will be poised within only a few degrees of the bright star REGULUS, the heart of the celesial lion. Interestingly, the tilt of the rings of Saturn toward the earth has been closing for the past months, but during April, the tilt actually INCREASES a bit and then begins once again closing until 2010.- in LEO

Uranus - Now appearing just ahead of sunrise in the southeaster skies; this distant planet is too close to the sun to spot during April - in AQUARIUS

Neptune - This distant planet (about 2.78 billion miles) is close to the sun in morning dawn and very difficult to observe during April. - in CAPRICORNUS.

Pluto - Pluto, still a planet by ASO standards, moved slightly eastward into the constellation of SAGITTARIUS where it dimly sits at magnitude 13.9, visible in moderate telescopes in the same realm of sky as much more brilliant Jupiter. Rising before dawn, Pluto will be high in the SE sky at sunrise.

note: to locate the three outer planets, use the charts from a good planetarium PC program!


Links to the complete "The Solar System in..." articles on this page may be found at the corresponding links below.

A big 'Thank You!' to the Arkansas Sky Observatory site for letting me link to all the great information there!

The articles on this page were copied with the permission of the author.