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Orange sunset

Photo of the Week. Day's end.

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) and Saturn (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 than Venus, 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 local midnight.

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.
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