Planets Dominate the Skies in March for Oregon, Portland, the Coast
(Portland, Oregon) - Venus, Jupiter and Mars, oh my.
It's a plethora of planets showing up at night this month around Oregon. The Portland area, Willamette Valley, the Oregon coast, central Oregon, the Gorge and southern Oregon will all get a stellar treat in March, according to OMSI Planetarium Manager Jim Todd – with some special events for this display in the coast range and the Gorge. (Above: major star action at Cannon Beach)
All the visible planets will be putting on a bit of a show at night. Venus and Jupiter wander westward at twilight, while Mercury will sneak around them. Mars pops up in the east just after sunset and Saturn follows a few hours later.
Mercury made quite the showing on Monday night as it reached it furthest point east of the Sun.
“Venus and Jupiter continue to highlight the evening sky, visible through the twilight in the western sky all month long,” Todd said. “Jupiter appears higher in the sky as the month begins, but Venus moves in closer until reaching an amazing conjunction with Jupiter mid-month, followed by a lovely trio as the waxing crescent moon passes near the planets on the evenings of March 24th, 25th and 26th.”
Todd said Venus will be the higher of the two in the sky when it's at its farthest point from the Sun on Monday, March 26th, prominent at magnitude -5.1 and positioned in the constellation of Aries the Ram, at a distance of 46°02' from the Sun.
At the end of the month, you can see Jupiter about two and a half hours after sunset, and Venus will appear about four hours after sunset.
Given a clear night, these will be especially wondrous viewing along the Oregon coast as these points are largely to the west.
Then, if you look east – which will be better viewing inland – Mars pops up low on the horizon just after dark, in front of the constellation of Leo, the Lion, with Leo’s bright star Regulus to the upper right of the Red Planet.
Cape Foulweather at night
Mars reached its highest point in the sky earlier this past week.
Saturn will slowly become a bigger attraction.
“Rising in the east in late evening, Saturn is notable for its extensive ring system which makes a beautiful sight through even a modest backyard telescope,” Todd said. “Saturn approaches its opposition, which occurs on April 15.”
Two Star Parties will be held on March 17, presented by OMSI, Rose City Astronomers and Vancouver Sidewalk Astronomers as they celebrate the spring equinox and the beginning of spring. They are both free – one happens at Rooster Rock State Park in the Gorge and the other at L.L. "Stub" Stewart State Park in the Oregon coast range, a ways off Highway 26. They're open to beginners and experts, allowing people a chance to view the stars and these other heavenly bodies through telescopes.
Viewing highlights includes the spectacular pairing of planets Venus and Jupiter in the west along with the emerging Mars and Saturn from the east. As the sky darkens, you'll be able to view deep sky objects including the Orion Nebula, Beehive star cluster and more.
Rodea Point, near Depoe Bay
OMSI suggests to doublecheck the OMSI Star Parties Hotline on that day if weather has caused the events to be canceled. - at 503 797-4610. The event starts at sunset and is free with $5 parking per vehicle. Warm clothing and a flashlight with red light are recommended. Personal telescopes and binoculars are welcome.
To reach Rooster Rock State Park, take I-84 east of the Sandy River at exit 25. The park is located 22 miles east of Portland.
To reach L.L. "Stub" Stewart State Park, take US-26 west of Portland and turn right on OR-47. The park is located 23 miles west of Portland.
Suggested viewing spots along the Oregon coast:
High vantage points that are away from town lights will be best, or those beach spots cloistered from wind, should the winds kick up at night. Silver Point, just south of Cannon Beach will be good, as will Ecola State Park. Arch Cape near Cannon Beach will also be prime.
Above Manzanita, at the Neahkahnie provides a clear view – except to the east. The village of Cape Meares, near Oceanside, will have little to no light interference. Oceanside and Cape Meares can provide good shelter from the wind as well.
Some of the best viewing for the central Oregon coast will be around the Depoe Bay area, including parts of Gleneden Beach that are away from the lights, Rodea Point (just south of Depoe Bay) and Cape Foulweather. The parking lot at Moolack Beach, just above the beaches north of Newport, will be nice and dark. Parts of Seal Rock could also be good.
Further south, near Yachats and Florence, look for the 804 trail in Yachats; and many of the clifftop vantage points between there and Florence, such as near the Devil's Churn, Bray's Point, Ocean Beach Picnic Ground, near the Sea Lion Caves or Neptune State Park.
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