Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, February 15, 2008.
The Moon begins the week in its waxing
gibbous phase, then passes through full
the night of Wednesday, February 20, as it makes the transition to
waning gibbous. The night of Friday the
15th, look for the bright lunar disk just to the north of Mars in Taurus. Then the night of
Wednesday the 20th, it will make a lovely trio with Regulus (to the west of the Moon)
(to the east).
The juxtaposition of Moon-star-planet will be made all the more
special by a total eclipse of the Moon, which will darken
the sky and render the star and planet easily, if not eerily,
visible, the two bookending one of the finer sights nature has to
offer. Beautifully visible throughout the Americas, the Moon
enters its partially eclipsed state (when it
is partially within the full Earth shadow) at 7:43 CST (add an hour
for EST, subtract one for MST, two for PST). Passing to the south
of the central shadow, the Moon becomes fully immersed in shadow
(totality) at 9:00 PM CST. Mid-eclipse occurs half an hour later, at
9:26 PM CST, and the totality show is over at 9:52 PM CST. A bit over
an hour later (11:09 PM CST) the Moon exits the dark shadow. For
roughly half an hour before and after the partial phase, the Moon
is in the "penumbral" shadow (in which some sunlight shines), the
effect of which is quite difficult to see.
Mars, moving easterly through eastern Taurus and transiting the meridian at 8 PM, dominates the evening,
while the morning now really more belongs to Jupiter rather
which has been at the prime focus for so long. The giant planet
now rises in a fully darkened sky around 4:30 AM, more than an hour
before Venus comes up, which she is now doing after the onset of
dawn rather than before. Venus's brightness renders it still
visible, however. While Mars is near its most northerly position,
passing it on Friday the 15th, Jupiter, in Sagittarius, is near its most southerly location. As
Venus descends, Mercury
comes up, as the two head for conjunction next week. Back to the
evening, Saturn is now rising in Leo around sunset, then crosses to the south just after
It is, of course, Orion Season.
But don't stop with the giant Hunter and his surrounding bright
constellations. Look immediately south of him for the boxes of
stars that make Lepus, the Hare,
and then farther down to find the lonely triangle of Columba, the Dove.