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 twilight.

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.
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