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See Jupiter, Mars and Saturn in Thursday's dawn sky

March 25, 2020 01:47PM

Early risers this month have been treated to an unusual celestial "pas de trois," as the three brightest superior planets — called "superior" because they move in orbits beyond the Earth from the sun — have been changing positions relative to each other in the dawn twilight. The three planets in question are (in order of brightness), Jupiter, Saturn and Mars.

Jupiter currently rises around 3:45 a.m. local daylight time, but is best seen, especially in telescopes, as dawn is starting to break about 2.5 hours later. At that hour the king-sized world shines fairly low in the southeast with the Teapot of Sagittarius to its right.

Meanwhile, having shifted from Sagittarius into Capricornus on the March 21, Saturn rises about 15 minutes after Jupiter, though in trying to view its famous rings through a telescope, its southern declination will keep it frustratingly low for northern observers. The best views will be after dawn begins, and the farther south you are the better.

Then comes Mars, which rises close to 4 a.m. and continues to get closer to Earth in its orbit, though the planet is brightening at a rather slow pace. But that increase in brightness will accelerate dramatically during spring and summer.

Earlier this month, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn were strung out diagonally in that order from upper right to lower left, low in the southeast sky, Jupiter equally spaced by 8 degrees from Mars and Saturn. In the days that followed, the arrangement of these three worlds noticeably changed. The main reason being that Mars moves rapidly eastward, while Jupiter and especially Saturn's motion are more sluggish.

On the first morning of spring, Mars and Jupiter were in conjunction with Mars passing just 0.7 degrees to the lower right of the much brighter Jupiter.
The best is yet to come!

But the best configuration of these three planets will come early on the morning of Thursday, March 26. They are equally spaced again but this time, much closer together. They will form an upside down isosceles triangle, with Mars serving as the point of the vertex angle, while the base angles are marked by Jupiter and Saturn. Jupiter and Mars and Mars and Saturn each separated by only 3.5 degrees, while Jupiter and Saturn are separated by 6.5 degrees. Going from right to left: Jupiter, Mars and Saturn.

  See Jupiter, Mars and Saturn in Thursday's dawn sky

SeattleRam17March 25, 2020 01:47PM

  Yup, one of my favorite 'notifications'...

JamesJM7March 26, 2020 08:53AM