Photo of the Week. Memories of Mars in Leo, as seen on November 2, 2011.
Reddish Mars is centered with Regulus below it, while the Sickle stretches out to the upper
left. See labelled and full resolution versions.
Astronomy news for the two weeks starting Friday, February 1,
The last two-weeker for a while, the next Skylights will appear
February 15, 2013.
The Moon spends a bit more than half the fortnight travelling
through its later phases. We get a peek at the late waning gibbous just before third quarter strikes the morning of Sunday,
February 3, with the Moon near the celestial meridian. It then launches
itself into the waning crescent phase,
finally appearing in last view the morning of Friday the 8th before
it hits new the night of Saturday the 9th. Look for it again in
western twilight as early as Monday the 11th as a waxing crescent that climbs higher and
higher, getting fatter and fatter (the nighttime side aglow with
Earthlight) until first quarter is reached early next week.
Early in our period, the Moon visits Spica and Saturn, the
planet nearly 20 degrees east of the star. The morning of Friday
the 1st before dawn, find the waning gibbous to west of Spica,
while the following morning it will reside between the planet and
the star. Then look the morning of Saturday the 3rd to see the
third quarter just below Saturn. On Thursday the 7th, the Moon
goes through perigee, where
it is closest to Earth on its monthly round.
Although invisible because of bright western twilight, Mars, Mercury, and Neptune mix it up early in
our period with a series of conjunctions. That between Mercury and
Mars takes place during the day on Friday the 8th, when the two
will be just 0.3 degrees from each other. The thin waxing crescent
Moon gets into the act as well just as it becomes visible after
new. Mercury begins to peak, setting at the end of evening western
twilight, just as our period ends. You can probably forget Venus, as it
does not rise until mid-dawn. The planet will not be well seen
again until it finally beats evening twilight much later in the
year. All of which leaves us with Jupiter and Saturn. Which is
not bad. As it has for some time now, the giant planet rules the
evening. Look for it high to the south as twilight ends, Jupiter
not setting until a couple hours after midnight. By then, it has
been replaced in the east by Saturn, which rises near or just after
midnight and transits the meridian much lower to the south (again,
to the east of Spica, the two still making a nice pairing) about as
And don't forget to celebrate Groundhog Day on Saturday the 2nd, a
"cross-quarter" day that marks the halfway point between the
beginnings of winter and spring.
It's hard to tear one's gaze from the central figure of winter,
bright Orion, which dominates the
sky in mid-evening. Look then for the prominent Winter Triangle, made of Betelgeuse (up and to the left of
the Hunter's three-starred Belt), Procyon in Canis Minor (to the left of
Betelgeuse), and brilliant Sirius
in Canis Major at the southern