Jupiter and Mars will be in conjunction, meaning they share the same celestial longitude, at 2:21 a.m. EDT (0621 GMT), according to In-the-Sky.org. The two planets will make their closest approach, also known as an "appulse," 4 hours later, at 6:33 a.m. EDT (1033 GMT). At that time, they will be less than 1 degree apart. (For reference, your fist held at arm's length measures about 10 degrees wide.)
For skywatchers in the eastern United States, the moment of the planets' closest approach happens about 30 minutes before sunrise. In New York City, for example, both Jupiter and Mars will rise around 4 a.m. local time, so viewers will have at least a couple hours to see them before they fade into the daylight. In parts of the world where Jupiter and Mars are below the horizon during the encounter, the two planets will still appear close to each other once they peep over the horizon in the morning. Look for the pair above the southeastern before dawn.
Jupiter and Mars won't be the only two planets visible in Friday's morning sky. Saturn will also be shining brightly to their left. And if you have a clear horizon, you may be able to spot the tiny planet Mercury just before sunrise. Mercury will rise in New York City at 5:58 a.m. local time, exactly 1 hour before sunrise. To find out exactly when and where the planets are visible from your location, check out this handy night sky calculator by Time and Date.
While Jupiter and Mars will be snuggled up close in the constellation of Sagittarius, the archer, Saturn will be straddling the border between Sagittarius and its neighboring constellation of Capricornus, the sea goat. The waning crescent moon will rise in Capricornus about half an hour before Mercury, and about 90 minutes after Jupiter and Mars.
Because Mercury is so close to the sun in Earth's sky, it is notoriously difficult to spot. But the innermost planet is just a few days away from its greatest western elongation, or its greatest separation from the sun, making this a great time to try to see it. On Monday (March 24), when Mercury reaches its greatest elongation, it will reach an altitude of about 11 degrees by the time the sun rises, giving skywatchers a longer opportunity to see it (safely) without any obstruction from sunlight.
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