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For those who like to hunt for treasure, early March offers nice views of the solar system’s most elusive naked-eye planet. Mercury climbs into view in the west during the month’s first week, appearing as a pale-yellow dot low in the evening twilight.
Although Mercury shines brightly, it can be hard to pick out against the twilight glow. Fortunately, the planet Venus serves as a terrific guide. Venus shines brighter than any other point of light in the sky. Head outside about 30 minutes after sunset, and the brilliant planet will dazzle your eye from its perch high in the west. (The conspicuous object just above Venus is the planet Jupiter.)
Tue., March 13, evening twilight
Jupiter and Venus
The two brightest planets will be only 3 degrees apart this evening.
Mercury will be well placed as an evening “star” during the first half of March, being at greatest elongation east on March 5. This is the most favorable evening apparition of 2012.
Venus is a brilliant object in the evening sky after sunset all month, and is at greatest elongation east on March 27. The waxing crescent Moon will pass close to Venus on Mon. March 26, making it an easy target in the daytime sky.
Mars is in Leo all month, reaching its maximum size for this apparition of 14 arc seconds. By the end of the month it will already have faded from its maximum of magnitude –1.2 to magnitude –0.7. Mars rises around sunset and sets around sunrise.
Jupiter continues to shine brightly in the western sky all month in Aries, setting around 11 p.m. Jupiter and Venus are the brightest objects in the evening sky other than the Moon.
Saturn rises around 10 p.m., and is visible the rest of the night. It now shines brighter than nearby Spica.
For most of the month of March, the four brightest planets, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, will all be above the horizon around 9 p.m.
Uranus is too close to the Sun to observe, being in conjunction with the Sun on March 24.
Neptune is too close to the Sun to observe.