Astronomy news for the two weeks starting Friday, February 13,
The next skylights will appear February 27, 2015.
Our fortnight opens with the Moon thinning in its waning crescent phase as it
approaches new on Wednesday, February 18, your last look in the
east the morning of Thursday the 17th with Mercury to the right. The
previous morning, the little planet will be down and to the left
of the crescent. Making a decent appearance, Mercury goes through
its greatest western elongation from the Sun on Tuesday the 24th.
The Moon then flips to the other side of the sky, appearing as a
waxing crescent in the west with first
look the evening of Thursday the 19th, the Moon nearly at perigee, where
it is closest to Earth. It then heads toward first quarter on Wednesday the 25th, after which it
will enter the waxing gibbous phase.
The planets (indeed, with the Moon) give us a special treat during
the middle of our period.
Mars has been slowly working its way north as it falls behind
Earth, but has been setting around 8 PM since early last November.
At the same time,
Venus has night-to-night been slowly and brilliantly creeping
up (you can't miss it in western twilight), the two approaching
each other. Finally, on Saturday the 21st, they meet in
conjunction just half a degree apart, the angular diameter of the
full Moon, Mars to the north. The
contrast is remarkable, Venus a creamy white, Mars a yellow-
orange, even reddish color, Venus some 100 times brighter. Even
better, on that night the Moon gets into the act, the slim
crescent hovering above the two. The evening before, a slimmer
crescent passes a couple degrees north of them. The planets then
slowly separate as each night Venus climbs ever higher.
What's left but Jupiter, which is now already up in the east as the sky
darkens and transits the meridian
shortly before midnight. Moving slowly retrograde, westward against the stars, Jupiter
stands brightly between Leo and
dim Cancer to the west of the star
Oh, but then there is Saturn rising a couple hours after Jovian transit, and Neptune, which
invisibly goes through conjunction with the Sun on Wednesday
And speaking of the Sun, it's slowly creeping northward
toward the Vernal Equinox and
northern spring and is now a full 10 degrees north of the Winter Solstice parallel.
In early evening, Orion and the
rest of the winter gang ride high. But as Jupiter announces, Leo
and spring are not far behind. To the northeast the Big Dipper rises, while the "W" of
Cassiopeia descends. Lonely Polaris, however, maintains its
steadfast position, up from the horizon at an angle about that of
your latitude: the first law of