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Gibbous Moon

Photo of the Week. Waning gibbous Moon from 30,000 feet (this picture added to Moonlight).

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, March 12, 2010.

As it does every month (and given the phase cycle of 29.5 days, sometimes twice a month), the Moon rebirths itself this week by passing through its new phase, this time on Monday, March 15: the Ides of March as the old Romans would have said. You can catch the waning crescent in the eastern morning sky on both Saturday the 13th and, with more difficulty, Sunday the 14th in bright dawn. Your first shot at the western waxing crescent will be the evening of Tuesday the 16th, when the Moon will appear to the right and a bit down from Venus. The following night will be much better with the thin crescent above the bright planet. Then the remainder of the week sees the Moon growing fatter as the crescent heads toward first quarter on Tuesday the 23rd.

And speaking of Venus, with a decent western horizon and a look at the right time in twilight, the planet should be well visible, though not for long before it sets. The sight will improve with time. Once Venus goes and the sky darkens, the planetary evening belongs to Saturn and Mars. Rising just after sundown, Saturn -- still in western Virgo to the northwest of the star Spica -- crosses the sky to the south about half an hour after midnight. Mars, still wandering slowly eastward against the stars between classical Gemini and Cancer, beats the ringed planet by transiting the meridian quite high to the south around 8:30 PM. Both are then up nearly the remainder of the night, Mars finally setting just before the beginning of morning twilight.

We now celebrate the last week of winter, as the Earth passes the vernal equinox in Pisces on Friday the 20th. Mercury and Uranus celebrate by coming into conjunction with the Sun, Mercury in superior conjunction (on the other side of the Sun) on Sunday the 14th, Uranus the night of Tuesday the 16th.

The nearly blank area roughly within the Winter Triangle of Betelgeuse (in Orion), Sirius, and Procyon (of Canis Major and Minor) is filled in with the modern constellation Monoceros, the mythical Unicorn. It's blank just to the eye. The telescope reveals many wonders, the grandest of which is the beautiful Rosette Nebula, that surrounds a young central cluster. We also see great numbers of hot blue stars. To the east, find the scary head of Hydra, the Water Serpent, the longest constellation in the sky, the beast stretching well to the southeast of Virgo's Spica.
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