Photo of the Week. The waxing gibbous Moon rises
behind a winter tree.
Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, March 2, 2007.
We begin the week, the night of Friday, March 2, with the Moon just
shy of full,
that phase reached the evening of Saturday the 3rd. The remainder
of the week sees the Moon then waning in its
gibbous phase toward
third quarter, which is not passed until the evening of Sunday
the 11th. Because of the eccentricity of the lunar orbit and the
gravitational pull of the Sun, the
quarters (with "full" as "second quarter") do not quite exactly
"quarter" the 29.5 day phase cycle (7.4 days). Here we have a
rather long stretch of 8.2 days between first and full. The night
of Friday the 2nd, watch for the Moon rising just to the east of Regulus in Leo, with Saturn on a
line to the west of the pair.
This full Moon is special, as the night of Saturday the 3rd it will
pass through the shadow of the Earth, allowing many of us to see a
total eclipse. The event is seen in its
entirety in Africa and Europe. The far northeastern coast of North
America sees the Moon rising in the east while it is entering the
dark umbral shadow, while the southern
seaboard and midwestern US and Canada see it rising during
totality, which will present an eerie sight indeed. West of the
midline of the continent, viewing gets worse, totality missed
altogether, while the west coast essentially sees nothing at all.
Totality begins at 5:44 EST, while mid-totality is achieved at 6:21
EST, 5:21 CST. Totality ends at 6:58 EST, 5:58 CST, and the show
is over (except for the dim penumbral phase with the Moon in
partial shadow of the Earth) at 8:12 EST, 7:12 CST, 6:12 MST.
While admiring the eclipse, be sure to turn around to the west to
take in one of the great gifts the sky has to offer, brilliant Venus, which is
now not setting until a full hour after evening twilight is done
with. Saturn, now well up by sundown, will make a nice sight to
the west of the eclipsed lunar disk. You'll find the ringed planet
about midway up to the south by 10:30 PM. Then wait until 1:30 AM
for the rising of Jupiter (to the
northeast of Antares). The giant
planet is nearly to the meridian by
the time it disappears in bright dawn. For awhile we can still
Two of the great sights of the sky lie in Taurus, which in turn lies above and to the right of Orion. The head of the celestial
Bull is made of the vee-shaped Hyades star cluster, which is 150 light years away. Aldebaran, which marks the Bull's
eye, is not a part of it, but instead lies a bit under halfway
between us and the cluster. Farther up and to the right are the Pleiades, the Seven Sisters,
which appears smaller because of its greater distance of 425 light
years. The telescope shows a huge number of such clusters dotting the immediate area.