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Distant sunset

Photo of the Week. Distant sunset.

Astronomy news for the two weeks starting Friday, January 29, 2016.

The next skylights will appear February 12.

The Moon starts us off near the end of its waning gibbous phase, which ends at third quarter on Sunday, January 31, shortly before moonrise in North America. It then enters the waning crescent phase, which slims until the Moon disappears from the sky at new Moon the morning of Monday, February 8. Your last chance to see the ultra-thin crescent will be on the twilit morning of Sunday the 7th. The Moon then flips to the other side of the sky, appearing as a thin waxing crescent in western twilight the evening of Tuesday the 9th.

The waning crescent will drive through a wonderful array of planets. The morning of Monday the 1st, look for the crescent Moon to rise just three degrees north of Mars. Then on Wednesday the 3rd, it passes a similar distance above Saturn, when they will make a nice triangle with the red supergiant Antares below. Two mornings later the crescent will lie well above brilliant Venus. The Moon finishes by making a beautiful triangle with Venus and Mercury on Saturday the 6th, Venus to the right of the Moon, Mercury below. Sights like this are treasures that do not come along very often. However the three do not rise until the beginning of twilight and will require a clear southeastern horizon.

During our fortnight the Moon runs from apogee (where it is farthest from Earth) on Saturday, January 30, to perigee (closest) on Wednesday, February 10, during which the angular diameter increases by about 10 percent, the effect really not noticeable to the eye.

Jupiter now seriously encroaches upon evening skies, rising brightly in southern Leo around 8:30 PM at the start of our session, closer to 7:30 at the end. It's followed by Mars northwest of its rival-in-color, Antares, around 1 AM and then by Saturn (to the northeast of Antares) at 3:30 (late January) to 2:30 (mid-February).

Orion still dominates the early evening. Look to the south of him for a boxlike set of stars that represents his prey, Lepus, the Hare, and then farther down for the flat triangle that makes Columba, the Dove. Immediately east of him is the modern constellation of Monoceros, the Unicorn. While faint, Monoceros contains some of the great treasures of the dim winter Milky Way, including the delightful Rosette Nebula.

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