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Orange sunset

Photo of the Week. Orange sky at night...

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, February 19, 2010.

The week starts off with the Moon in a fat waxing crescent phase, with first quarter crashing in on the night of Saturday, February 21, about as darkness falls, allowing for a near-perfect quarter to be seen. The rest of the week then finds the Moon waxing in the gibbous phase as it heads towards full next week, on Saturday the 28th. Be sure to watch the evening of Thursday the 25th to see the Moon pass five or so degrees to the south of bright Mars, while at the same time pointed to by Pollux and Castor of Gemini, which will be to the west of the red planet.

So enjoy Mars, which crosses the meridian to the south around 10 PM as it retrogrades in Cancer between Gemini's two bright stars and the Beehive Cluster. Because Jupiter is gone, as it prepares to go through conjunction with the Sun next week. That leaves the weekly story, more or less, with Saturn, which rises in Virgo at 8 PM, about two hours before Mars crosses south. The ringed planet then transits before 2 AM. But then there is also Venus, which is now bright, but in deep evening western twilight and still hard to find. When you see it, you'll know it.

This is the prime season for great Orion, the celestial Hunter, the seven-star pattern made obvious by his three-star Belt high to the south at 8 PM. To the left is Canis Minor, his smaller hunting dog illuminated by the star Procyon, the eighth brightest star in the sky, mostly because it is just a dozen light years away. Down and the left of the Hunter barks Canis Major, the Larger Dog, whose luminary Sirius outshines all other stars, its sparkle the result of variable refraction in the Earth's atmosphere. Closer than Procyon, it's just under nine light years off. With these two, we sometimes forget another constellation that is associated with the Orion myth, his little prey upon which he seems to stand, Lepus, the Hare, an attractive double-box-like figure immediately to the right of Sirius. If you have a good enough southern horizon, look below Lepus for the flat triangle that makes modern Columba, the celestial Dove.
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