The parade of planets has intrigued star-watchers for thousands of years. Consider a group of what look like bright stars - minus any obvious twinkle - which, unlike the rest of the starry dome, keeps changing position. Referred to as "wandering stars," they were seen to loop around the sun and Earth from our perspective, and it took many centuries to untangle just what they were seeing - what went around what? Debates about a flat Earth were coupled with the heretical notion that the Earth may be one of those "wandering stars."

Planets farther out from the sun make odd "U-turns" on occasion as the Earth passes them by. This is an illusion caused by our changing perspective, known as "retrograde" motion.

As March 2014 opens, you can have a find view of Jupiter, shining brilliantly high in the south in the evening. A small telescope will show its four big moons, looking like tiny stars attending the disc of the King of Planets.

Bright red Mars rises around 10 p.m. in the east, about six degrees from the bight white star Spica.

Saturn appears low in the southeast around midnight and is highest in the south at dawn.

Early risers or really-late-to-bedders can see Venus shining very bright before dawn. Look low in the southeast. Mercury is deep in the sunrise glow to the lower left of Venus.

Did you know there was once another planet listed in the solar system, closer to the sun than Mercury? It was called Vulcan by astronomers in the mid-19th century, who had fleeting glimpses of what they suspected was a planet. Vulcan was never confirmed, except of course by "Star Trek" fans.

Binocular users can track down a few of the brightest asteroids, as well as Uranus and Neptune.

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), a German astronomer, developed three famous laws of planetary motion that helped to lay the foundation of modern astronomical research and our understanding of the Solar System. He utilized the remarkably accurate data of Danish observer Tycho Brahe, who before the invention of the telescope, charted the positions of the stars against which the planets are seen to move.

Keplerís work became a template about which Isaac Newton formed his theory of gravitation. His studies helped prove that all the planets, including Earth, revolve around the sun.

The basics of the three laws are, 1. Each planet orbits the sun in an ellipse, of which the sun is at one focus; 2. The line between a planet and the sun sweeps out equal areas at equal times, and thus a planet moves faster when closer to the sun; and 3. The square of the time taken by a planet to orbit the sun is proportional to the cube of its mean distance from the sun.

Since the mid-1990's, discovery of hundreds of confirmed planets orbiting other stars has added greatly to our knowledge and raised more questions about solar system dynamics.

There is a wealth of fascinating information available in your nearest bookcase or library. Even if you cannot easily get out in the cold night to see the stars, reading is a wonderful alternative. Kepler in fact, had poor eyesight and made few actual astronomical observations, but with his mind, pen and paper, he moved worlds.

New moon is on March 1.

Keep looking up!