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Photo of the Week. Waves.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, February 21, 2014.

The night of Friday, February 21, finds the Moon rising a bit shy of its third quarter and just to the east of Saturn. It will thence begin to fade away in the waning crescent phase, with new Moon achieved (like it has a choice) as our week and month end the night of Friday the 28th. The eastern morning sky of Wednesday the 26th will display a beautiful and classic pairing between the Moon and Venus, with the planet just to the west of the slimming crescent. Go look! The next morning the even thinner crescent will appear up and to the right of elusive Mercury, which, rising in twilight, is making a poor appearance. The Moon passes perigee, where it is closest to the Earth, on Thursday the 27th, just 1.5 days before it passes new, which will bring bigger than usual tides to the coasts (the strength of the ocean tide depending on the inverse cube of the lunar or solar distance).

Jupiter rides high, in early evening nearly overhead, the kingly planet dominating the sky still within the confines of Gemini to the southwest of Castor and Pollux. At magnitude -2.5 it's brighter than any star, is second only to Venus, and can under the right circumstances be seen in daylight. It's with us most of the night, finally setting in the northwest around 4 AM. Mars rises about 10 PM in Virgo just to the northeast of Spica, with which it presents a fine color contrast, the planet reddish, Spica blue- white. Mars, in ancient times representing the god of war, crosses the meridian to the south half an hour before Jupiter sets. Saturn is next. The ringed planet rises toward the southeast in Libra northwest of Antares in Scorpius at local midnight, then crosses the meridian just as dawn begins to light the morning sky. But all are in obeisance to Venus. At magnitude -5, rising as Jupiter sets, Venus shines brilliantly in morning twilight. Near maximum brightness, in a dark sky the planet casts shadows and is quite visible in broad daylight. In minor news, Neptune is in conjunction with the Sun on Sunday the 23rd.

It may not seem like it, but winter is really coming to an end. Though in early evening Orion hunts to the south, he is followed by the lion of spring, Leo replacing him around midnight. Look to the southeast of Orion to find Sirius in Canis Major, the sky's brightest star. The western star of the triangle below it is Adhara, the last of the first magnitude stars. To the south and east floats Argo, the great Ship of the Argonauts.
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