Every week, SkyNews publishes a list of key events in the Canadian sky in This Week’s Sky. This series gives you all the latest news in Solar System movements, including where the planets are in our sky and Moon phases. From eclipses to meteor showers, This Week’s Sky keeps you updated on the best in upcoming astronomical highlights.
Monday, February 28 – Crescent Moon with Mercury and Saturn (before sunrise)
Look just above the east-southeastern horizon before sunrise on Monday, February 28 to see the slim crescent of the old, waning Moon shining a palm’s width to the lower right (celestial southwest) of the planets Mercury and Saturn. The trio will be higher, and in a darker sky, for observers in the tropics and at southerly latitudes, where the ecliptic (green line) will be more vertical. Watch for the bright planets Mars and Venus shining about two fist diameters to the celestial west of the trio.
Tuesday, March 1 – Mars marches with Venus (pre-dawn)
During most of March, the planets Venus and March will be shining together in the southeastern sky before dawn – making a terrific photo opportunity. On any clear morning, find extremely bright Venus in the lower part of the southeastern sky, and then look for 250 times fainter Mars positioned a slim palm’s width below it. On March 1, the magnitude 7.6 minor planet (4) Vesta will be located a thumb’s width above Mars. The two planets will be travelling eastward near the ecliptic until mid-month. After that, Venus will swing sunward while Mars is carried west with the rest of the stars.
Wednesday, March 2 – Mercury passes Saturn (pre-dawn)
Look low in the east-southeastern sky at dawn on the mornings centered on Wednesday, March 2 to see the speedy planet Mercury pass close to Saturn. The two planets will be binoculars-close (large green circle) from Monday to Friday, with Mercury approaching from the upper right (celestial west). At closest approach on Wednesday morning, twice as bright Mercury will sit only a finger’s width to the lower right (or 0.7 degrees to the celestial south) of Saturn – close enough for them to share the view in a backyard telescope (small green circle). On the following mornings Mercury will shift to Saturn’s lower left. The conjunction will be more easily seen from southerly latitudes, where the planets will shine higher, and in a darker sky. (For eye safety, turn all optical aids away from the eastern horizon before sunrise.)
Wednesday, March 2 – New Moon (at 17:35 UTC)
At 12:35 p.m. EST or 17:35 UTC on Wednesday, March 2, the Moon will officially reach its new Moon phase. At that time it will be located approximately 5.5 degrees south of the sun, in Aquarius. While at the new phase, the Moon is travelling between Earth and the sun. Since sunlight can only reach the far side of a new Moon, and the Moon is in the same region of the sky as the sun, our natural satellite becomes completely hidden from view for about a day.
Saturday, March 5 – Mars passes Messier 75 (pre-dawn)
In the southeastern sky before dawn sky on Saturday, March 5, the path of the reddish planet Mars (labeled track with date:time) will carry it close to a globular star cluster known as Messier 75 and NGC 6864. The planet and the cluster will be close enough to one another to share the view in a backyard telescope (green circle) from Friday to Sunday. At closest approach on Saturday, Mars will sit a finger’s width to the upper left (or 0.7 degrees to the celestial north) of the magnitude 9.2 cluster – but your optics may flip and/or invert that arrangement. Observers at southerly latitudes, where Mars will sit higher, will get better views of the event. The dwarf planet Pluto will be located just 1.5 degrees to the west of that cluster, too – but that extremely faint object is beyond the reach of backyard telescopes.
Sunday, March 6 – Crescent Moon meets Uranus (evening)
In the western sky after dusk on Sunday, March 6, the waxing crescent Moon will be located a short distance below (or celestial west) of the magnitude 6.8 planet Uranus. By the time Uranus sets in late evening, the Moon’s orbital motion will have carried it closer to the planet, especially for observers in the western Americas. Observers in parts of eastern Antarctica, southeastern Australia, southeastern Melanesia, and southwestern Polynesia can watch the Moon occult Uranus in the period around 7:30 UTC.
Chris Vaughan is a science writer, geophysicist, astronomer, planetary scientist and an “outreach RASCal.” He writes Astronomy Skylights, and you can follow him on Twitter at @astrogeoguy. He can also bring his Digital Starlab portable inflatable planetarium to your school or other daytime or evening event. Contact him through AstroGeo.ca to tour the Universe together.