Monday, March 27
The sky’s brightest asteroid, magnitude 7.5 Vesta, shows up quite easily through binoculars this week. To find the minor planet, start at magnitude 1.2 Pollux in northern Gemini and then drop 2.4° southwest to magnitude 4.1 Upsilon (u) Geminorum. Vesta lies 0.7° due south of Upsilon this evening.
New Moon occurs at 10:57 p.m. EDT. At its New phase, the Moon crosses the sky with the Sun and so remains hidden in our star’s glare.
Tuesday, March 28
Jupiter stands out among the background stars of central Virgo from the time it rises around 8 p.m. local daylight time until morning twilight is well underway. The giant planet is near its best for the year right now, reaching opposition next week (on April 7). Jupiter shines at magnitude –2.4, which makes it the brightest point of light in the evening sky. The best time to view the planet through a telescope is when it climbs highest in the south, a position it reaches around 2 a.m. Jupiter’s spectacular disk spans 44", and its dynamic atmosphere shows at least two parallel dark belts.
Wednesday, March 29
With an age of 4.5 billion years, “young” might not seem an appropriate word to describe our Moon. But tonight, you have a nice opportunity to see what astronomers call a “young Moon” — a slender crescent visible in the early evening sky. With New Moon having occurred two nights ago, only 5 percent of our satellite’s disk appears illuminated after sunset tonight. You should notice an ashen light faintly illuminating the Moon’s dark side. This is “earthshine,” sunlight reflected by Earth that reaches the Moon and then reflects back to our waiting eyes. With binoculars, scan some 10° to the Moon’s lower right and you also should pick up the glow from Mercury, which shines brightly at magnitude –0.6.
Thursday, March 30
The waxing crescent Moon climbs significantly higher in the evening sky with each passing day, and tonight it serves as a guide to ruddy Mars. The planet stands about 7° (approximately one binocular field) to the Moon’s lower right. The pair appears nearly 20° high in the west once twilight fades to darkness and doesn’t set until after 10 p.m. local daylight time. The Red Planet shines at magnitude 1.5 among the background stars of Aries the Ram.
The Moon reaches perigee, the closest point in its orbit around Earth, at 8:32 a.m. EDT. It then lies 226,088 miles (363,853 kilometers) away from us.