Get ready for some exceptionally brilliant performances by Venus and Jupiter
True to March’s reputation, the brightness of Venus roars like a lion in the evening sky, but the planet takes its leave later in the month. It returns late in March to reside in morning heavens. You cannot miss the dazzling Venus in the evening’s west now, after sunset, seen at -4.8 magnitude, exceptionally brilliant.
On Wednesday, find Venus, the dim, reddish Mars and a young crescent moon together. By the next night, the moon has moved on from Mars and Venus.
Throughout the month, Venus gets lower in the evening sky and becomes a morning object. Our effervescent planetary neighbor reaches “inferior conjunction” (think transit of the sun, without seeing the planetary dot crossing the solar disk) on March 25. Weeks from now, it will rise in the east before the sun.
Like a pinch hitter in the Nationals’ lineup, Mercury steps to the west, seeming to take Venus’s lineup spot. By mid-March, the zippy, innermost planet is at -1.8 magnitude (bright) and hovers close to the horizon under the dim Mars. Mercury becomes less bright later in the month. Enjoy the moon, Mercury and Mars on the evenings of March 29-31, as the fingernail crescent of a new moon forms a triangle with Mercury and Mars (March 29). The slightly thicker moon then jumps above both planets (March 30) and becomes more distant March 31.
Jupiter is bold and bright at -2.4 magnitude, easily seen with the naked eye. In mid-month, the giant planet rises about 9 p.m. in the east-southeast. For the past few months, Jupiter has been traveling with the bright star Spica, and they are separating slightly later in the month.
Rising several hours before the sun, the ringed Saturn is high in the south-southeast in the darkness before sunrise. If you are walking your dog before daybreak, look south on March 20 to see Saturn loitering with the waning, last-quarter moon. Incidentally, winter officially becomes spring at the Vernal Equinox on March 20 at 6:29 a.m., the U.S. Naval Observatory says. From Earth’s human-centric perspective, the sun appears to cross the equator into the Northern Hemisphere. To keep the record straight, Earth moves, the sun stays in place.
Our clocks move forward March 12 at 2 a.m. to begin daylight saving time.
If you’re reading this early enough Sunday morning (Feb. 26), there is still time to watch the “ring of fire” annular solar eclipse live on Slooh.com starting at 7 a.m.
Saturday — “Apollo on the Move.” See the historic Apollo 11 command module at the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar at the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center, Chantilly, as it gets prepped and conserved for this fall’s two-year national tour, called “Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission,” with stops in Houston, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Seattle. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Free admission. $15 parking. airandspace.si.edu.
March 5 — “Advanced LIGO: Hearing the Sound of Gravity,” a talk by astronomer Leo Singer at the University of Maryland’s Observatory, College Park. See the night sky through telescopes afterward, weather permitting. 8 p.m. astro.umd.edu/openhouse.
March 6 — Featuring Venus, Mercury and Jupiter, enjoy “Stars Tonight” at the David M. Brown Planetarium, 1426 N. Quincy St., Arlington, next to Washington-Lee High School. 7:30 p.m. $5. friendsoftheplanetarium.org.
March 7 — “ALMA: In Search of Our Cosmic Origins,” a lecture by Pierre Cox, director of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, at the Carnegie Institution for Science, 1530 P St. NW (corner of 16th and P streets). 6:30-8 p.m. Livestreamed. carnegiescience.edu.
March 11 — “The Wonderful Brief Life of an X-ray Telescope: ASTRO-H/Hitomi,” a talk by astronomer Richard Mushotzky at the National Capital Astronomers regular meeting, at the University of Maryland Observatory, College Park. 7:30 p.m. capitalastronomers.org.
March 12 — The Northern Virginia Astronomy Club’s regular meeting, 163 Research Hall, George Mason University. 7 p.m. novac.com.
March 18 — “Women in Aviation and Space,” Heritage Family Day. Through hands-on activities and stories, learn about the contributions women have made in aviation and space, at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Chantilly. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Free admission. Parking $15. airandspace.si.edu.
March 20 — “The Vernal Equinox: The First Day of Spring,” a program at the Montgomery College planetarium, Takoma Park. 7 p.m. wapo.st/vernal_equinox.
March 20 — “Dark Matters: The Mystery of the Universe’s Missing Mass,” a talk by astronomer Regina Caputo at the University of Maryland’s Observatory, College Park. See the night sky through telescopes afterward, weather permitting. 8 p.m. astro.umd.edu/openhouse.
March 23 — “Cassini to Saturn: The Journey and the Legacy,” a lecture by Carolyn Porco of the Space Science Institute at the Lockheed Martin Imax Theater, National Air and Space Museum, on the Mall. 8 p.m. Request tickets online. airandspace.si.edu.