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    Articles > March 2000
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What's Out Tonight

Never miss an astronomical event again with this 50 year field guide.
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  See All Five Naked-Eye Planets!
Star gazers have an good opportunity this month to see all five naked-eye planets. Begin by looking low in the western sky about 45 minutes after sunset. Here you will find a line of three planets -- Mars (lowest), Jupiter (middle) and Saturn (highest). Jupiter is the brightest of the group and the easiest to find. Look for a brilliant white "star" in the western sky. It's not a star at all but the planet Jupiter.

Apart from the Moon, Jupiter is the brightest object in the evening sky at the moment. However, unlike a star the light we see from Jupiter and other planets is not emitted by the planet but is instead reflected sunlight. In the same way that we see the Moon by reflected sunlight we also see the planets.

Planets of the Solar System
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A few degrees away from Jupiter and higher up in the sky is the beautiful ringed planet Saturn (a small telescope will show the rings). Although fainter than Jupiter, Saturn shines with a steady yellow color and is quite easy to find. Mars is the most difficult of the three planets to see because it is presently relatively faint and quite low in the sky. Extend a line from Saturn through Jupiter to find Mars. Look for a red or orange colored "star" and you will have found the planet Mars. Use a pair of binoculars if necessary.

Of special interest to star gazers this month will be the evenings of March 8 to 10 when the thin crescent Moon will be located near Mars, Jupiter and Saturn one evening at a time. Make a special effort to view this most beautiful of celestial sights.

The most elusive of the five naked-eye planets is Mercury. It is the closest planet to the Sun and is difficult to see because much of the time it is "lost" in the bright light of the Sun. However, in the pre-dawn sky on March 15 and 16 Venus, the brightest planet in the sky, will be your guide. On this morning, Mercury will be located just 2 above Venus. Find brilliant Venus very low in the eastern sky about 25 minutes before sunrise, and there just above will be Mercury, the most elusive planet of all. You may need a pair of binoculars to detect the two planets in the bright twilight.

Clear skies until next month!

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