Get ready for some ex­cep­tion­ally bril­liant per­for­mances by Venus and Jupiter

The Washington Post Sunday - - LO­CAL OPIN­IONS - BY BLAINE P. FRIED­LAN­DER JR. Fried­lan­der can be reached at PostSky­watch@ya­hoo.com.

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.

Down-to-Earth events

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.

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