Our Friendly Skies

March 03, 2009|By ROD MARTIN and ANDY SMETZE, Tristate Astronomers

Visible evening planets

Venus is very bright in the west most of the month.

Saturn is visible all night.

Visible morning planets

Mercury may be visible before sunrise early in the month.

Jupiter rises shortly before the Sun.

Mars rises less than an hour before the Sun.

For more information about the visible evening planets and nighttime sky, download the planetarium's podcast "Skylights" from

Solar System

Venus has been our brightest planet most of the winter. As we approach spring, Venus dips into the evening twilight as the month passes. It is very bright in the western sky after sunset. It sets about three hours after the Sun early in March, but rapidly drops toward it in the sky, passing it on March 27. On that day, Venus moves between the Earth and Sun at inferior conjunction. It will show up in the morning sky during April.

Galileo's observations of Venus was evidence that the Earth revolved around the Sun as Copernicus had proposed. When you look at Venus this month, you can notice what Galileo did, namely phases. Venus does go through phases similar to our Moon. This month you should see a very thin crescent. Use binoculars or a small telescope for the best views.


Saturn reaches opposition on March 8. That is the time that it lines up with the Earth and Sun, with the Earth in the middle. Saturn will be visible all night. It is in the constellation Leo the Lion all year. At +0.5 magnitude, Saturn looks like a bright star, brighter though than nearby Regulus. The rings are now tilted less open than over the past

year because of our viewing angles, so it will not appear as bright in the sky as it often does.

Jupiter, Mercury, and Mars form a nice grouping this month.On March 1, Mercury was about the width of the full Moon from Mars. Mars rises about an hour before the Sun most of the month. Jupiter is slightly farther south and pulls away as the month passes. By the end of March, Jupiter will rise about two hours before the Sun.

Sun and Moon

The first day of spring is always a highlight because it marks the time where we finally receive more daylight than nighttime. The equinox is the day when the Sun is directly over the Earth's equator heading northward. Days will be getting longer now until the first day of summer in June, and there will be more daylight than nighttime until September.

The vernal or spring equinox occurs when the center of the Sun crosses the equator, and that is at 7:45 a.m. EDT on March 20. On March 1, the Sun rose at 6:44 EST, set at 6:03 EST for 11 hours and 19 minutes of daylight. By March 31, the Sun rises at 6:56 EDT, sets at 7:34 EDT for 12 hours and 38 minutes of daylight. Did you notice that we switch from standard to daylight savings time this month?  Don't forget to change your clocks on Sunday, March 8. The Sun enters the astronomic boundaries of Pisces from Aquarius March 11. The moon reaches first quarter March 4, full on March 10, last quarter March 18, and new March 26. 

Brish Planetarium and events

2009 is the International Year of Astronomy. 400 hundred years ago, Galileo first pointed his telescope toward the sky and revolutionized astronomy. His observations helped provide the proofs that the Earth revolved around the Sun instead of the other way.

The IYA is designed to promote awareness of astronomy and its importance to our society. Many events are planned by the Brish Planetarium, Tristate Astronomers and Discovery Station. Download the special edition of "Skylights" from for a summary of activities.

The public planetarium program is "In Search Of New Worlds." Planets orbiting other stars are being discovered at a rapid pace. Find out about a star's formation and methods astronomers use to discover

these distant worlds.

Programs are held Tuesday evenings at 7 p.m. when schools are in session. There won't be a program March 17.

Admission costs $3 for adults, $2 for children and students, and senior citizens with a WCPS gold card are free.

The Tristate Astronomers meet monthly at the planetarium. For more information about schedules and special events for the club, go to

The planetarium is at the Central Offices of the Washington County Public Schools on Commonwealth Avenue off Frederick Street in Hagerstown.  The planetarium's Web site is and the phone

number is 301-766-2898.

Stay up to date with public programs and take a tour of the night sky with "Skylights," the Brish Planetarium's monthly podcasts on and "Skylights" are made possible by Antietam Cable Television, The Herald-Mail Co. and Washington County Public Schools' Public Information Office.

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