Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, February 12, 1999.
The Moon starts the week in its waning crescent phase, then
disappears from the morning sky, passing through new just after
midnight the night of Monday, the 15th. As it does, it will
eclipse the Sun on the other side of the world, the shadow path of
the Moon starting below the South African coast and going across
the southern Indian Ocean to Australia, the partial eclipse
covering South Africa, the Philippines, and Antarctica.
Unfortunately, the Moon will be a bit too far away to cover the
Sun. The result will be an annular eclipse in which a ring of
sunlight is left around the occulted solar disk. The waxing
crescent will then become visible in the western evening sky the
night of Wednesday the 17th.
As the crescent grows, it will make an unusual and most lovely
sight with Venus and Jupiter the evening of Thursday the 18th. The
two planets are quickly closing the gap between them, higher
Jupiter moving toward the Sun, lower and brighter Venus away from
it. They will pass each other in very close conjunction the night
of Tuesday, the 23rd. On the 18th, the two planets and the Moon
will make a flat close triangle, with the Moon on top and Jupiter
in the middle. A look at a higher angle will reveal Saturn, all
four bodies more or less lined up on the ecliptic (the apparent
path of the Sun).
While viewing planets, don't forget Mars, which now makes its
appearance before midnight following the first magnitude star
Spica, the two appearing nicely in the southwestern sky in morning
As winter begins to wind down, the season's constellations slip
away to the west. Orion is high to the south near dusk but sets
not long after midnight. Early evening now sees the rising of that
great harbinger of Spring, the constellation Leo, which represents
the Nemean Lion associated with the first of the twelve labors of
Hercules. The Lion's head is marked by a famed asterism, the
"Sickle of Leo." Looking like a backward question mark, the Sickle
ends in the bright star Regulus, which lies just a hair above the
ecliptic path, the Sun passing it on August 23rd. High in the sky
to the south near midnight, and away from the dust of the Milky
Way, Leo is home to many distant galaxies each as grand as our own.