Jupiter arrives at solar conjunction on March 5, meaning that thereafter, the five brightest planets will be accessible only in the early morning sky. In actuality, only two — Venus and Mars — are easily available for most skywatchers to see, beginning about two hours before sunrise. Mercury will not be favorable for observation because it will remain very low to the east-southeast horizon during the early part of March, while mired deep in the dawn twilight glow. Saturn begins to emerge into view during the final week of March, joining Venus and Mars, with a crescent moon on March 28 making it a foursome. And Jupiter finally makes its presence felt at month’s end.

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In our schedule, remember that when measuring the angular separation between two celestial objects, your clenched fist held at arm’s length measures roughly 10 degrees. Here, we present a schedule below which provides some of the best planet viewing times as well as directing you as to where to look to see them.

NOTE: Daylight Saving Time returns on March 13 — the second Sunday in March. Except in the states of Arizona and Hawaii, and the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, clocks are to be moved forward one hour at 2 a.m. The mnemonic is: “Spring forward, Fall back.”


(Image credit: Starry Night Software)
Mercury is approaching the sun and is a difficult object for mid-northern observers. On the first day of the month, about a half hour before sunrise, look for the zero-magnitude planet very close to the east-southeast horizon, 22 degrees to Venus’ lower left.

Binoculars may be required to spot Mercury, especially from northern states; despite coming off of an unusually large solar elongation in mid-February, this smallest of the planets is very low because the ecliptic now makes its smallest annual angle with the morning horizon. On April 2 Mercury passes superior conjunction.


(Image credit: Starry Night Software)
Venus arrives at its greatest western elongation from the sun (47 degrees) on March 20. In a telescope its crescent shape at the start of this month appears to fatten up to more-or-less half-full today and gibbous shaped by month’s end.

Venus is certainly easy enough to spot in the dawn twilight. It is, as always, the brightest planet, and rises in the east-southeast about two hours before sunup. The eerie, low glimmering of Venus is a harbinger of daybreak, which begins less than an hour after it first peeks up above the horizon.


(Image credit: NASA)
Earth will go through a change of seasons on March 20. On that day, the sun arrives at the equinox at 11:33 a.m. EDT, crossing the celestial equator heading north for the year. This event inaugurates spring in the Northern Hemisphere and autumn in the Southern Hemisphere.


(Image credit: Starry Night Software)
Mars is brightening ever so gradually (by just two-tenths of a magnitude this month) while hardly gaining any size in a telescope. It still appears as just a tiny, shimmering disk — hardly more than a messy “star” in most instruments, especially since it is at a low altitude above the horizon. But wait a few months.

The Red Planet is slowly gathering speed for a rush into the evening sky in late summer and a good opposition come December. Mars will be in conjunction with the brilliant planet Venus on the morning of March 16; compared to Venus, the red planet appears only 1/175 as bright. You’ll find it sitting about 4 degrees to Venus’s lower right.


(Image credit: Starry Night Software)
Jupiter passes through conjunction with the sun on March 5 and enters the morning sky. It finally emerges into view, extremely low in the bright dawn on the final day of March; however, you most definitely will need to use binoculars to scan for it, just above the eastern horizon about 25 minutes before sunrise.


(Image credit: Starry Night Software)
Saturn still hides in the sunrise glow during the first half of March, but begins to emerge low in the east-southeastern dawn glow during the last week of the month.

The morning of March 24 will provide you with an excellent opportunity to identify it courtesy of two other morning planets, Venus and Mars. Today, all three will form a wide isosceles triangle low in the east-southeast about 90 minutes before sunrise. Orange Mars and slightly brighter yellow-white Saturn form the base, while dazzling Venus marks the vertex.

On the morning of March 28, a waning crescent moon will join Venus, Saturn and Mars. About 45 minutes before sunrise, look low toward the east-southeast horizon to see the slender lunar sliver positioned about 7 degrees below and to the right of Venus and 5.5 degrees below and to the left of Mars. Saturn will sit about 2 degrees below Venus; they’ll be slightly closer tomorrow morning when they’re in conjunction.

Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York’s Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine, the Farmers’ Almanac and other publications. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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