Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, February 15,
Yay, we are back to weekly sky news. But is it "news" if it's in
advance of the event? No matter. The Moon begins it happily in
its late waxing crescent phase as it
approaches first quarter on Sunday,
February 17, when it will be well up in the east in the afternoon.
The Moon thereafter goes into the waxing
gibbous phase, fattening and rising ever later as it heads
towards full early next week. Once
again, the Moon makes a close pass to Jupiter. This time, it will a bit west
of the planet the night of Sunday the 17th, closest
approach not taking place until after the pair sets the following
morning. The night of Monday the 18th, the Moon will not only be
on the other side (to the east) of the planet with
Aldebaran below, but will go through its apogee, where it
is farthest from the Earth. But not by much, a mere 5.5 percent or
so from the average of 384,400 kilometers (239,000 miles), the
variation in angular size not sensible to the eye.
In the early evening, if you have a clean western horizon you might
spot Mercury, which reaches greatest eastern elongation
relative to the Sun on Saturday
the 16th. For a couple days around that date, look for a bright
celestial dot in twilight, the planet setting just as the sky fully
darkens. As hard as Mercury may be to find, Jupiter is easy. Just
look high to the south or west in early evening for the brightest
thing you can see (barring the obvious Moon). Then watch as the
planet glides down the northwestern sky, accompanied just to the
southeast by the star Aldebaran, Jupiter not setting
until around 1:30 AM. Jupiter's more distant mate, Saturn, has now passed something of a milestone by rising
just before midnight. Hanging out nearly 20 degrees to the east of
Spica, Saturn now hardly moves at
all against the stellar background as it begins its
retrograde (westerly) motion amongst the stars of dim Libra on Tuesday the 19th. It won't
reach opposition to the Sun, however, until April draws to a close.
Quite invisible, Neptune passes conjunction with the Sun on Thursday the
Look to the south of bright Orion to find the Hunter's prey, Lepus the Hare, the most obvious
part of which looks like two distorted boxes stitched together.
Some 15 degrees farther down is a more peaceful figure, a small
flat triangle of stars that represents the modern constellation of Columba, the Dove.