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Moon and Venus

Photo of the Week. A classic pairing of the Moon with Venus -- fifty years ago. (Photo added to Moonlight.)

Astronomy news for the two weeks starting Friday, March 14, 2008.

Skylights will next appear March 28, 2008.

The Moon passes its first quarter right at the beginning of our fortnight, on Friday, March 14. It then waxes in the gibbous phase for the next week until it passes full on Friday the 21st, following which it wanes in the gibbous toward third quarter, which is not reached until Saturday the 29th, three days after it passes apogee, where it is farthest from the Earth.

Watch the evening of Friday the 14th, when the near-quarter passes just to the north of Mars, allowing easy location of the bright planet. Then, the evening of Tuesday the 18th, the Moon will make a fine lineup with Regulus and Saturn, the three all in a row, with the Moon to the west of the star, Saturn to the east. Keep watching, and around midnight you can see the Moon passing just to the south of Regulus. By the following evening, the Moon will have switched to the other side of the planet. As it continues, the Moon will then pass just south of Antares in Scorpius the morning of Thursday the 27th.

The morning hours also feature another conjunction between Venus and Mercury on Sunday the 23rd, but the pair is so low that it will be impossible to see. These hours are really Jupiter's domain, the planet rising brightly in the southeast in northeastern Sagittarius around 3:30 AM Daylight Time, just half an hour or so after Mars (which transits high to the south just after sundown) sets. Saturn, well up in the east in the evening, now transits around 11:30 Daylight, while setting in mid-dawn.

The Big Event, however, belongs to Earth. At 12:48 AM Central Daylight Time (1:48 AM EDT) the morning of Thursday the 20th, the northward-moving Sun crosses the celestial equator at the Vernal Equinox in Pisces, bringing astronomical spring to the northern hemisphere, fall to the southern. In the west, the crossing occurs before midnight (11:48 PM MDT, 10:48 PDT), bringing in spring at an especially early March 19. On the day of the crossing, the Sun rises due east, sets due west, is up for 12 hours and down for 12, rises at the north pole and sets at the south (though the continuous solar movement, solar diameter, and atmospheric refraction skew things a bit).

As spring comes on, the winter constellations, Orion, Auriga, Gemini, and the rest of the gang, start slowly to slip away, as Bootes and Virgo, with Arcturus and Spica, begin to make their appearance.
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