A Full House from Dusk to Dawn
Five planets and a full moon grace our skies this week
With our return to Daylight Saving Time, I wake greeted by Venus blazing in the southeast. The Morning Star rises around 5:30, and an hour later it is well perched above the horizon, shining brighter than any object other than the moon and sun. As sunrise nears and if the sky is clear, another bright light appears 20 degrees in Venus’s wake, Mercury.
Friday marks the innermost planet’s greatest western elongation — its farthest point from the sun as seen from Earth. Even so, it only climbs 10 degrees above the south-southeast horizon before sunrise. While Mercury doesn’t climb any higher, it brightens from +0.8 to –0.1 magnitude through March.
Evening brings the other five naked-eye planets into view. As twilight gives way to darkness, Jupiter pops alight almost directly overhead. It is easily the brightest object other than the moon, which is far to the east this week.
Mars rises around 9pm, as bright as any star. Compare its ruddy hue to the first magnitude star Spica’s blue-white glow just a half-dozen degrees away. Planet and star are at their highest in the south around 3am.
By that time, Saturn is well above the southeast horizon, trailing 30 degrees behind Mars and Spica. The ringed planet is at its highest in the south a couple hours before sunrise.
The moon is prominent this week, reaching full phase Sunday. Native Americans called this the Worm Moon, as this is the time of year when the ground softens and these creatures
begin to work the earth.
Friday the waxing gibbous moon is just a few degrees to the west of the star Regulus in the constellation Leo, while Saturday the moon shines well below Regulus.
Monday the just-full moon rises with Spica in tow. The lead star of Virgo stands almost directly below Luna, while ruddy Mars is just a few degrees left of Spica.
Tuesday the moon, Mars and Spica rise in the southeast around 10pm and form a triangle. The waning gibbous moon shines four degrees to the lower right of Mars and one degree to the lower left of Spica. They remain tight all night and are high in the northwest as sunrise approaches Wednesday morning.