See the Moon join a dawn planetary parade from 7–11 March

By Ade Ashford

Set your alarm for 5:30am GMT if you wish to see three naked-eye planets and more in the UK dawn sky. Find a location that offers an unobstructed view of the horizon from southeast through south and let the waning Moon be your guide to Jupiter on the morning of 7 March, first-magnitude star Antares on 8 &9 March, Mars on 10 March and Saturn on 11 March. This looping animation shows a south-southeast aspect from the heart of the British Isles almost four spans of an outstretched hand at arm’s length wide. Each frame represents successive sidereal days (i.e., 5:38am on the 7th, 5:34am on the 8th, 5:30am on the 9th, etc.), so the stars remain fixed and reveal the motion of the Moon and planets. Note that the Moon’s apparent size has been enlarged for clarity. AN animation by Ade Ashford.
Early risers in Western Europe blessed with clear skies can witness a gathering of three prominent naked-eye planets – Jupiter, Mars and Saturn – each visited in turn by the waning Moon from 7–11 March. To get the best views from the British Isles you need to have an unobstructed view of the horizon from southeast to a little west of south about 5:30am. Note that all times given in this article are Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).

The UK dawn of Wednesday, 7 March finds the 20-day-old waning gibbous Moon 3½ degrees to the upper right of prominent magnitude -2.2 Jupiter in the constellation of Libra, hence the pair are framed nicely in the field of view of typical 10×50 binoculars. If you are a particularly early UK riser this morning and own a telescope of 7.6-cm (3-inch) aperture or more, then take a look at Jupiter with a magnification of 100 to 150×. The planet’s Great Red Spot (GRS) will be on show from approximately 3:30am to 5:30am, while the shadow of Io (Jupiter’s innermost Galilean moon) crosses the planet’s cloud tops from 4:21am to 6:31am.

On the morning of Saturday, 10 March it’s the turn of magnitude +0.7 Mars to get close to the almost 23-day-old waning Moon. Around 5:30am you’ll find the pair just 3⅔ degrees apart, so users of typical binoculars will get a great view of the Red Planet and 43 percent lunar crescent to its upper left in the same field. In a telescope, Mars lies in the constellation of Ophiuchus and sports a tiny 7.1-arcsecond disc requiring a magnification of 250× to enlarge it to the same size as the nearby Moon appears to the unaided eye.

Finally, the UK dawn of Sunday, 11 March finds the 23.7-day-old lunar crescent just 2¼ degrees to the upper left of magnitude +0.5 Saturn in the constellation of Sagittarius. Telescopically, the planet’s globe slightly exceeds 16 arcseconds in diameter while the oval outline of its prominently displayed ring system, tilted by 25 degrees to our line of sight, spans 36 arcseconds. The smallest telescope magnifying 50× or more will therefore reveal Saturn’s rings.

At UK dawn on Sunday, 11 March, Saturn’s largest and brightest moon, Titan, lies close to greatest elongation some 4½ ring diameters east of the planet. At magnitude +9, Titan is an easy target for small telescopes. Somewhat more challenging this morning is Saturn’s second-largest moon, Rhea, at magnitude +10.4. Note that in Newtonian/Dobsonian reflectors and refractors/catadioptric (Schmidt- and Maksutov-Cassegrain) telescopes with a star diagonal, east is to the right in the eyepiece. AN graphic Ade Ashford/Cartes du Ciel.
While admiring Saturn’s rings at dawn on 11 March, don’t forget to look for the planet’s largest moon, 5150 kilometre-wide Titan, that’s favourably placed at greatest elongation almost 4½ ring diameters due east of the planet. Titan is visible in small telescopes, but if you want a slightly more challenging target this morning, the Ringed Planet’s second-largest moon, 1525 kilometre-wide Rhea is also well placed.

Don’t forget that you can use our fully interactive online Almanac to get predictions of when to see Jupiter’s GRS or phenomena of the planet’s four bright moons Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto for other dates and global locations. The Almanac provides a wealth of observing data for all of the bright naked-eye planets.