by William J. Bechaver
As we began to watch the positions of Mars and Saturn a couple of months ago, they were in completely different quadrants of the sky.
But now, Mars has caught up to Saturn in its orbit, and we here on Earth are rapidly gaining on them both. The gap between the two will appear to be negligible early within the week.
The best time to view the two is in the early morning hours. Right now, locating them can be a little tricky. They lie above The Teapot, one of the most recognizable asterisms in the night sky. It is located in the Sagittarius constellation.
Though far outshined by Jupiter, Mars and Saturn are still the brightest objects in the area. If you wait until just after six o’clock in the morning, or about a half an hour before sunrise, the three planets will remain the only objects still visible in the predawn sky, along with the Moon, of course. The lightening of the sky will have faded all the stars from view.
Mars and Saturn lie very close together in the south-eastern sky, with brighter Jupiter further off in the west, ahead of the Moon.
On the night of Sunday 1 April, the two planets will lie less than two degrees apart as they rise about an hour after midnight, or in the early morning hours of April 2.
If you go out a couple hours after midnight, or anytime on Monday morning before the sunrise begins to lighten the sky, look to the south east, and you should see the two planets very close together.
Both planets are not very bright right now, so they will not be as prominent as other recent conjunctions. Yet, it will be a spectacular sight to look for in the early morning hours.
If you have trouble picking them out, don’t fret. Next weekend, the Moon will join the pair, and they will not have moved very far from each other by then. With the Moon moving into that part of the sky, not only will it make them easier to spot, it will also add one more element to form a more impressive conjunction.
But if you find them, keep an eye on them until then, on successive mornings, to watch the progression as they slowly move apart before the Moon joins the formation.
The Moon is making its own headlines this week, as the full moon on Holy Saturday marks the second Blue Moon of the year. A Blue Moon has commonly become known as the second full moon in any month. As we had one in January, this is the second of the year, the full moon falling on the last day of March.
Also, the Moon will catch Jupiter on the morning after the close encounter of Mars and Saturn. So, on Monday night or Tuesday morning, go out and find the Moon, a few days beyond full, and it will make a nice pairing with Jupiter, the two lying about four degrees apart.
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• · William J. Bechaver is the director of SPACE • Spanish Peaks Amateur Cosmos Enthusiasts, the premier Astronomical Society for Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico.