Early Friday morning (March 20), Jupiter and Mars will make a close approach, and you can catch them together with Saturn and the crescent moon.
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.
Related: Best night sky events of March 2020 (stargazing maps)
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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Email Hanneke Weitering at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her @hannekescience. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.
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I viewed this close conjunction early this morning using my 90-refractor telescope with 14-mm eyepiece. 71x with true FOV a bit larger than 1-degree in the eyepiece. Jupiter, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto moons visible with cloud belts on Jupiter and Mars, small distinct planetary disk shape about 6" angular size, orange-red hue. I created charts using Starry Night and Stellarium software with MS Power Point slides. Very lovely views with waning crescent Moon low in SE sky behind trees near my horse barn. I also observed using 10x50 binoculars that provided very good views. I was out from 0600 to 0652 EDT or 1000 UT to 1052 EDT. Altocumulus clouds and cirrus caused some problems at times. Winds aloft according to NWS for my area, 260/50 to 260/70 knots from 9, 000 to 30,000 feet altitudes so clouds from the west blew over and more later as 0700 approached and by 0652, Jupiter and Mars disappeared from view. I am tracking Mars since 06-Dec-19 when it was in Libra, this morning moving through Sagittarius and closing with Saturn end of the month. Time well spent vs. thinking about COVID-19 news reports :) Mars opposition in October this year. Mars will be in Pisces then and a bit larger than 22" angular size compared to this morning size, 6". Looking forward to clear skies and excellent Mars opposition viewing later this year.