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Photo of the Week. The chill of winter will soon be replaced by spring's warmth and rain.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, February 9, 2007.

We are in a long period in which the momentary phases of the Moon rather match Skylight's Friday-to-Friday week. The third ("last") quarter of the Moon is to be passed on Saturday, February 10th, which leaves us with the waning crescent all week, until the new phase on Saturday the 17th. Watch in the early morning hours as the ever-thinning crescent rises later and later until it comes up only in dawn. The morning of Sunday the 11th, the Moon will reside to the west of Antares (the luminary of Scorpius), with Jupiter farther to the left. The following morning, that of Monday the 12th, sees the Moon six degrees below the giant planet, the three (Moon, Jupiter, Antares) making a delightful, constantly shifting, sight. On the following two mornings, the Moon plows through Sagittarius, which is now starting to clear dawn.

While Venus dominates the very early evening, shining brilliantly in southwestern twilight, the week really belongs to Saturn, which goes through opposition to the Sun at the beginning of the week, on Saturday the 10th. At that time, it will rise at sunset, set at sunrise, and cross the meridian to the south at local midnight, giving us our best view of the year. With the Earth between Saturn and the Sun, the planet is now also in its fastest retrograde motion, though so far away (8.2 times the distance between Earth and Sun) that the movement is slow. Use Leo's Regulus, just to the east of Saturn, as a reference. Not quite three hours after Saturn transits, Jupiter rises to the east of Antares in Scorpius. By bright dawn, with Saturn setting, the giant planet is well up in the south- southwest. Mars, rising as dawn begins, is difficult, as is Mercury, which you might glimpse down and the right of evening's Venus.

Orion, who dominates the mid-evening sky, makes a wonderful guide to so many other constellations. Below the Hunter is Lepus, the Hare, and below that, a pretty triangle that makes Columba, the Dove. Further down, though below the horizon for temperate northerners, is Pictor, the Easel. To the southeast barks Canis Major, the Larger Dog with bright Sirius, while to the southwest flows Eridanus, the celestial river.
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