Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, February 26, 1999.
The Moon passes through full this week, the phase reached the night
of Monday, March 1 just after midnight with the Moon high in the
sky within the confines of the constellation Leo. The morning
before (the MORNING of March 1), the Moon will pass just to the
north of Leo's bright star Regulus, the two closest about 4:30 AM.
This is another month for the so-called "blue moon" phenomenon,
March having two full Moons, the next to come the night of
Wednesday, March 31.
The evening now sees a stunning array of planets lined up along the
ecliptic plane. Venus, the brightest body in the sky other than
the Sun and Moon, dominates. Below it is bright Jupiter, having
passed conjunction with Venus last week. Further down is Mercury,
which makes a nice appearance this week down and to the right of
Jupiter, separated from Jupiter by about the same angle Jupiter is
separated from Venus. Maximum eastern elongation, when the little
planet is best visible, will take place on Wednesday, March 3, when
it will be quite bright though low in fading western twilight.
Finally, look up and somewhat to the left of Venus to find Saturn,
looking like a bright star. The planets regularly swing in and out
of such "alignments," vividly showing their movements around the
Sun, Mercury the closest to the Sun and fastest, Saturn the most
distant and slowest of the bright naked-eye planets. If you wait
until midnight you can then see Mars nicely above the eastern
horizon to the east of the star Spica to complete the set.
Together with the Sun and Moon these planets make the classic
"seven moving bodies of the sky," from which -- in part anyway ---
comes our seven day week.
Though the bright Moon will wash out many of the coming springtime
stars, if you look down and to the right from the full Moon you can
spot lonely Alphard far down in the neck of Hydra, the Water
Serpent. This immensely long constellation "snakes" one third of
the way around the sky beneath the Moon, under Corvus the Crow (a
distorted box of stars down and well to the left of the full Moon)
and finally beneath Spica, the star now to the right of Mars and
pointed to by Corvus's top stars.