Photo of the Week.Blue skies shimmer above a
reflective lake that marks California's San Andreas
Fault, the JUnction of two massive crustal plates.
Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, February 13, 2009.
launches the week in the waning gibbous
phase as it glides through the Zodiac toward its last quarter, that phase achieved on Monday,
February 16, after which it enters the waning
crescent phase. The morning of Saturday the 14th finds the
fading Moon just to the southeast of Virgo's Spica. Then the morning of Tuesday
the 17th, the Moon will appear to the west of Antares in Scorpius, while by the following morning it will have
moved to the other side of the star. The morning of Friday the
20th finds the crescent low in the southwest amidst the stars of Sagittarius. On Thursday the 19th, it
passes apogee, where is
farthest from the Earth.
, long on the evening's center stage, outdoes itself by passing
its greatest brilliancy in this round of visibility on Thursday the
19th. At apparent magnitude -4.8, it is now 22 times brighter than
Sirius, the sky's brightest star. While still not
setting until around 9 PM, the setting times will rapidly get
earlier, the planet gone from evening by the end of March. But
take heart, as it will rapidly move past the Sun and appear
gloriously in the morning sky only a month later. And while
feasting on Venus, you can also admire
Saturn, which now rises just before the end of twilight and
crosses the meridian to the south
around 1:30 AM. Moving ever so slowly, this most distant of
ancient planets is now
retrograding against the stars of southeastern Leo.
But back to the morning, where we find a wonderful planetary
clustering. On Tuesday the 17th, Jupiter
and Mars (seen in
bright twlight) will pass conjunction with each other a mere degree
apart (Mars to the right of Jupiter). You will need a clear sky,
a flat horizon, and binoculars to see it. Up and to the right find
Mercury, whose greatest western elongation takes place on
Friday the 13th (lucky for us!). The planetary play, mixed in with
the Moon, will continue into next week.
We forget sometimes that the so-called lesser constellations can be just as charming
as the lustrous ones. Look to the south of Orion to find Lepus,
the Hare, which looks like two boxes put together. Farther down is
the flat triangle of Columba, the
Dove, with the faint stars of modern Caelum, the Engraving Tool, to the right, and brilliant
Canis Major to the left.