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.
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