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.