Photo of the Week. An exotic flower embraces the
startling blueness of the sky.
Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, January 28, 2011.
The Moon begins our week in morning's waning
crescent phase, which thins until new Moon is reached the
evening of Wednesday, February 2, after which the Moon passes into
evening's waxing crescent. The morning
of Saturday, January 29, the crescent will lie between Antares (to the right of the Moon)
and much brighter Venus (to
the left), the three almost in a straight line. By the following
morning, the thinner crescent will have moved down and to the left
of Venus, but at about the same angle away. Your last glimpse of
the Moon might be had the morning of Tuesday, February 1, while the
first look at evening's waxing crescent could be as early as
Thursday the 3rd in bright twilight, though the following evening
will be much better for lunar viewing.
The new Moon coincidentally marks an astronomical "holiday,"
Groundhog day, a "cross-quarter day" that celebrates the halfway
point between the beginning of astronomical winter (when the
Sun crosses the Winter
Solstice) and spring (the Sun passing the Vernal Equinox). So take heart, as
warmer weather is not far behind.
As January turns to February, Jupiter is slowly leaving us, as it now sets a
little after 9 PM, so look early in western skies. But as has been
the case for some time now, Saturn, more or
less opposite Jupiter, rises about an hour later amidst the stars
of Virgo to the northwest of Spica. It now crosses the meridian to the south shortly after 4 AM,
about the time that obvious Venus rises in the southeast, nicely
placed between Scorpius and Sagittarius. Mars also pops up in the news (though
not in the sky) as it passes conjunction with the Sun during
daylight on Friday the 4th. Though it then moves into the morning
sky, it will not clear the horizon before the start of twilight
until late May, the Earth only slowly now gaining on it.
Even with the passing of Groundhog day, winter still lies heavy
upon us. Which of course means we can now in mid-evening best
admire the beauty of the winter constellations as they flock around
mighty Orion with its pair of supergiants, bright
reddish Betelgeuse (at the
northeastern corner of the seven-star figure) and bluish Rigel (at the southwestern corner).
Down and to the left sparkles Sirius, the sky's brightest star.
Look then immediately to the right of Sirius and below Orion to
spot a prominent box-like figure that makes Lepus, the celestial Hare.