by William J. Bechaver
EARTH — Without a doubt, the moon is the star of the show this month. With all the inner visible planets camping out on the far side of the sun for the past few months, we’ve had a lull in planetary astronomy for a while.
But now, as we begin to catch up to the outer planets in their orbits, they begin to emerge from the glare of the sun in the morning sky.
For the next couple of weeks, we have an opportunity to locate them, with the help of the crescent moon in the early morning sky.
Highest of the visible planets in the south east right now is the largest, mighty Jupiter. It lies just above and slightly to the west of the constellation Scorpius.
If you go out this week, beginning on Wednesday, February 7, the waning crescent moon will be directly above, then slightly to the right, of the large gas giant planet. They will form a nice pairing in the early morning sky.
The following morning is the opportunity for the most impressive grouping. On the morning of Thursday, February 8, the shrinking crescent moon will lie almost directly between Jupiter and the less brilliant red planet Mars. The moon will be about the same distance between the two, though slightly higher above.
Below Mars is another reddish point of light. It is the bright star Antares, the brightest star in Scorpius. It is a giant sun, nearly 620 light-years distant, far beyond our own solar system.
This grouping will be an amazing spectacle in the shimmering early morning sky, easily visible around six o’clock, or about an hour before sunrise. Then, the following morning, Friday, February 9, the crescent moon will have moved beyond Mars, lying off to the east of the red orb. But we’ll follow up on that next week.
So, for three mornings, we will have amazing views, with the moon showing us the way to Jupiter and Mars. Next week, it will continue on beyond Mars and to Saturn, as all of the outer planets begin to emerge from the early morning glow.
We’ll pick up the tour from there, and follow the moon until it becomes new again, and explore more deeply the mystery of the month with no full moon, between two months with blue moons.
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William J. Bechaver is the director of SPACE • Spanish Peaks Amateur Cosmos Enthusiasts, the premier Astronomical Society for Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico.