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Photo of the Week. Planets do move! Jupiter is seen in retrograde between October 1988 and January 1989 against the background of Taurus. The identical pictures were taken from town and a dark mountain top, and starkly show what we have lost through light pollution. (This pair of images has been added to the Planetary Movement page.)

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, March 7, 2008.

NOTE: Daylight Savings Time begins on Sunday, March 9, after which add one hour to the times below.

We begin our week right on the date of the new Moon, Friday, March 7, which invisibly takes place around noon in North America. Our first glimpse of the growing crescent will then be in twilight on the evening of the following day, Saturday the 8th. Two days later, the Moon passes perigee, where it is closest to the Earth. The whole week then belongs to the waxing crescent, as the Moon will not reach first quarter until after moonset the morning of Friday the 14th. With the Sun just shy of the Vernal Equinox in Pisces, this first quarter will be just short of the Summer Solstice. The tilt and orientation of the lunar orbit is such that the night of Thursday the 13th, the not-quite quarter Moon will be north of the ecliptic, and as it crosses the meridian about as high as possible.

In the morning sky, Mercury and Venus still do their dance, though they are now almost impossible to see in dawn's light. On Saturday the 8th, Mercury passes just south of Neptune, while Neptune's brother planet Uranus passes conjunction with the Sun. That leaves the morning for Jupiter, which rises around 3:30 AM just to the northeast of the Little Milk Dipper of Sagittarius and to the east of the Winter Solstice. Now working its way to the east and slightly north, the planet will reverse its direction in about two months as the Earth prepares to swing between it and the Sun.

The evening sky holds a bit more promise. Mars first glimmers in twilight high on the celestial meridian just over the border into Gemini from Taurus and just under three degrees to the north of the Summer Solstice, close to opposite Jupiter's position. With us most of the night, it does not set until 2:30 AM, an hour before Jupiter rises. Finally, Saturn adds additional luster to Leo. Just to the east of Regulus, the ringed planet is well up in the east at twilight, crosses the meridian half an hour before midnight, and is then with us until the stars and planets fade away under the relentless onset of dawn.

'Tis Gemini season, about the best time for viewing the most northerly constellation of the Zodiac as it passes high across the sky in early evening. Look particularly for its two brightest stars: first magnitude orange Pollux, the brighter and more southerly, and the brightest of the second magnitude stars, Castor, which the telescope (and spectroscopy) show to be not single, but sextuple.
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