Down to Earth Astronomy in Everyday Life


Article Contributed by
Walt Pickut, Martz/Kohl
Board of Directors

This month at the Martz-Kohl Observatory the public is invited to hear another always entertaining, informative and sometimes just plain fun presentation by Mr. Phil Evans, a long-time Martz-Kohl member and supporter.
Evans is an eclectic historian of the space age and a collector of space tales and events of every sort. His presentations are always a special event at the Observatory. Come hear him at 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday, March 15, stay for a tour and, if the skies are clear, a chance to view the universe for yourself through some of the Northeast’s finest research telescopes at the Martz-Kohl Astronomical Observatory.
Tour the Planets
For those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere, March 2018 is the perfect month to see all five bright planets. Mercury and Venus, the two planets closest to the sun, will decorate the sky in the west just after sunset, and Jupiter, Mars and Saturn will put on their sky show from midnight to dawn. In order, traveling outward from the sun, the five bright planets that people have observed with the unaided eye (that’s why they are called the bright planets) ever since time immemorial are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.
Mercury and Venus are called the inferior planets because they orbit the sun inside Earth’s orbit. The superior planets, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, orbit around the sun outside Earth’s orbit. This month’s peculiar arrangement has the inferior planets near each other at sunset and the superior planets together between midnight and sunrise.
Spotting Mercury and Venus
They will be near the western horizon shortly after the sun goes down. Venus, about 12 times brighter than Mercury just now, is the guide to Mercury, which will be very nearby. On March 3, they were only a little more than one degree apart (roughly the width of a little finger at arm’s length). They will stay close together (within about 5 degrees) during the first three weeks of March. In binoculars, both planets will remain within the same field of view during those weeks.
Spotting Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.
The superior planets will be visible in the eastern sky as they ascend from the eastern horizon by about an hour after midnight. Bright Jupiter will rise first each night, followed by Mars and then by Saturn.
Jupiter is so large, the largest of all the planets, that reflected sunlight makes it brighter than any object in the sky except for Venus. Red Mars and golden Saturn are, by comparison, much fainter, and will rise closer to dawn.
See For Yourself
Viewing the planets through a telescope at Martz-Kohl offers an inspiring experience some have likened to almost like being there. People sometimes say they can almost reach out and touch them. Visit and plan a visit. You’ll be glad you did. You’ll back to see more.
For a deeper look at the night sky, planets, stars and the entire universe, visit the Martz/Kohl Observatory online at , check the schedule of events and visit in person. Thank you to Hall and Laury Opticians for sponsoring these Martz/Kohl column.