Not sure if this has happened before in the past but March 2012 is a special month as it ranks among the best to watch planets in the night sky. Five planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn) are going to be visible in the evening skies of March.
Mercury, the innermost planet, makes its best evening appearance for the year in the Northern Hemisphere. All over the world, Mars shines at its greatest brilliance for the year – and moreover, the red planet stays out all night long. Plus, the brightest and second-brightest planets – Venus and Jupiter, respectively – come together for a stunning conjunction in mid-March. Saturn, the farthest and faintest visible planet, is nonetheless as bright as a first-magnitude star, and its glorious rings are surprisingly easy to view through a backyard telescope.
Four of the five visible planets – Mercury, Venus, Jupiter and Mars – pop out first thing at dusk. Saturn comes up later in the evening. All of these worlds should be easy to see, with the sole exception of Mercury, the innermost planet of the solar system. As darkness falls, Venus and Jupiter blaze away in the western sky, while fainter Mercury lurks beneath them, near the horizon. The red planet Mars is found low in the east at dusk and nightfall, beaming as the sky’s fourth-brightest “star,” after Sirius.
Mercury, along with Saturn and Venus will be visible on March 14, 2012. It will be shining below Jupiter and Venus so you have to draw an imaginary line to be able to locate it. Use the picture provided above as a guide to find it. If you have a backyard telescope, it’s even better as you can view Jupiter’s moons near the end of the month. It is an amazing sight to see.
The planet that you should be most excited to see should be Mars. Mars is rising in the east as the sun sets in the west in early March 2012 (March 3rd and 5th). This is the other planet that will “wow” you on these March evenings. Mars reaches opposition on March 3, at which juncture this brilliant, ruddy world shines all night long, from dusk till dawn. Mars will become extremely noticeable in our sky in March – more noticeable than it’s been for the last two years. Very exciting!
In early March 2012, Earth passes in between the sun and Mars. Mars comes closest to Earth for this two-year period and shines most brightly in our sky. This is the wonderful Martian opposition. So don’t forget to get those telescopes or binoculars out and look out for bright red glow in the sky and witness the beauty that the universe has to offer.