In the early morning skies around 5:30 am, viewers will be treated to a dazzling display of three planets along the ecliptic in the same patch of the sky!
While Jupiter and Saturn will be approximately six degrees from each other, from March 17- April 7, they will be visited by the Moon and Mars over the two week period, putting on key displays and giving good targets for wide angle astrophotography. While this “Planetary Dance” will go on for the two week period, here are the best dates to check it out!
The planets are all along the same line in the sky known as the “ecliptic,” and this is due to them being along the same orbital plane as the Sun. When they are not appearing in retrograde, the planets with longer orbits than Earth appear to shift east to west by a tiny amount each day. Just like as if it’s a cosmic race track, they “lap” each other ever so often in the sky, and this 2 week period between Mars and April will have a lot to see.
Jupiter, Mars, the Moon, and Saturn will form an oddly shaped rhombus, or four sided figure in the sky. Some could say it’ll look like a small “ice cream cone” with Saturn being the bottom of the cone, and the other three objects forming the top. You’ll see the formation about 15 degrees above the horizon in the southeast, and it should be visible even as morning twilight begins.
After the Moon moves away from the dance, Mars will meet and greet Jupiter and Saturn respectively in two close conjunctions.
March 20 – Mars Meets Jupiter
This will be the more impressive of the two conjunctions as both objects will appear within a degree from each other, and you’ll be able to cover both objects at the same time within the width of your pinky finger!
It will be best viewed through a telescope at ~40x – 50x magnification, so you’ll see planet Mars right next to Jupiter and the four Galilean moons!
Even after the Sun has risen, both objects should be bright enough to see in a medium sized telescope (150 mm or larger) until midday when they set around 1 pm.
March 31 – Mars Meets Saturn
Mars and Saturn will be about one degree apart. You’ll still be able to cover both of them at the same time with your finger, but they aren’t going to be as close as Mars got to Jupiter.
Once more, the conjunction will be best viewed at around 40x magnification or lower, and seeing Mars with the rings of Saturn will still be a treat.
As the first week of April rolls on, you’ll still see Mars gradually move away from Saturn, forming a tight line no wider than 10 degrees apart, but by April 7, the apparent positions between Mars and the two gas giants will get wider and wider as Mars continues to move faster along the ecliptic than the other two planets.
If you are an early morning person by choice or circumstance, then this two week period will give you something to check out in the southeastern sky before dawn!
If you’re an avid planet watcher, or simply want to know where they are, then at this time of the year for 2020, the early morning skies is when you’ll catch them!
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