Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, February 3, 2012.
Skylights now resumes its normal weekly schedule; thanks for your
We start the week with the Moon in its waxing gibbous phase as it heads towards full on Tuesday, February 7, just before
Moonrise in North America, allowing one to see the Snow Moon, the
Wolf Moon, in all its rising glory. Our companion will then fade
in the waning gibbous during the rest of
the week. As it plies its near-monthly path, the Moon will take a
bead on Leo and Mars. The night of Tuesday the 7th finds the Moon to the west of
the star Regulus, while the
following night sees it to the southeast of the star and south of
Leo's classical figure. Then look the night of Thursday the 9th to
find the red planet smack in between the fat gibbous and Leo's
"tail star," Denebola.
strikingly beautiful in the early evening sky. Dominating the
west, the brilliant planet does not set until after 8:30 PM, almost
two hours past the end of evening twilight. It's hard to turn
one's head away a bit to the south to admire number two in the
planetary sky, Jupiter, which stays with us until shortly before
midnight. Then shortly before Venus sets, Mars serves to replace
it, rising in the east to the south of western Leo, as noted above.
One, two, three bright evening planets, and now number four, Saturn, which rise nearly as Jupiter sets, just before
midnight. The morning sky keeps Mars and Saturn, the former
transiting the meridian to the south
about 2:30 AM, Saturn following about 5 AM, just before dawn begins
to light the eastern sky. Saturn makes additional news, as on
Wednesday the 8th, it begins
retrograde motion, to the west against the stars, allowing it
to close in a bit on Spica in Virgo, the star lying to the
southwest of the ringed planet. In lesser news, on Thursday the
9th, Venus passes just three-tenths of a degree to the north of ranus, one planet bright enough to cast shadows, the other
barely visible to the naked eye under the best of circumstances.
In the invisible news department, Mercury goes through superior conjunction with the Sun (on
the other side of it) on Tuesday the 7th.
Look nearly overhead in the early evening to see Perseus, the rescuer of Andromeda. Its luminary, Mirfak, (the Alpha star) ranks number
35 in brightness, while the Beta star (Algol, the Demon Star), a fine example
of an "eclipsing
double" (two stars in orbit, in which one each gets in front of
the other), winks at us every 2.9 days. To the east find Auriga with bright Capella, ranking sixth and the most
northerly of the first magnitude stars.