These next two weeks, the moon exits the evening sky, leaving the sky dark for a rich banquet of brilliant winter constellations. But where the moon goes is itself a wonderful thing to see.
In the next 10 days, the moon glides past brightly kindling Mars and the bright star Spica, prominent Saturn, and, finally, the truly blazing Venus.
The starry dogs of winter evenings. In a few more nights, the moon starts rising in the late evening, allowing us to enjoy the winter constellations in full darkness around 8 to 10 p.m.
Orion, the Hunter, has his three-star belt and his brightest stars, blue-white Rigel and golden-orange Betelgeuse. And don’t forget that drawing a line to the upper right from the belt takes your gaze near the V-shaped head of Taurus, the Bull, featuring the bright bull’s eye star Aldebaran, and onward to the tiny dipper that is the lovely Pleiades star cluster.
Above Orion and Taurus is the bright, slightly yellow star Capella in the constellation Auriga, the Charioteer.
What is that brightest point of light so magnificent to the upper left from Orion? It’s Jupiter, which this winter glows to the right of the brightest stars of Gemini, the Twins: Pollux and Castor.
But this week, I’d like to concentrate on the constellations of Orion’s two hounds — Canis Major, the Big Dog, and Canis Minor, the Little Dog.
Canis Major features the star far more brilliant than any other in our night sky: Sirius. Soak up the splendor of this star of stars each night when you see it.
But do also take some time to notice how impressive the rest of Canis Major is.
In this season of bright constellations, only Orion is brighter than Canis Major. The lower part of Canis Major is a fairly compact triangle — comprising stars virtually as bright as those of Orion’s famous belt.
Also sometimes overlooked in favor of Sirius is Orion’s little dog and its prime star, Procyon.
Admittedly, the little dog usually is drawn as being just Procyon and one or two other stars — in a short line that reminds us more of a dog’s tail than a dog.
But Procyon is the sixth brightest star ever visible at night from our part of the world. Procyon forms a huge, nearly perfect equilateral triangle with Sirius and Betelgeuse.
The moon passes Mars, Saturn and Venus. To see the moon’s pretty posings with planets these next two weeks, you’ve got to either stay up late or peek out before sunup.
The first event features good sights on two nights. About 10 to 11 p.m. tomorrow, look east to see a hefty moon rising near the bright star Spica and fairly near the now rapidly brightening planet Mars.
At 11 p.m. Wednesday, the moon appears to the opposite side of Mars, forming a flat triangle with orange-gold Mars and slightly blue Spica.
Thursday night, we have to stay up past midnight to see both the moon and the object near it — Saturn. Especially if you have buildings or trees to the southeast of you, you might need to look out instead around 5:30 a.m. Friday to see Saturn as a point of light somewhat to the left of the moon — or, on Saturday morning, well to the right of the moon.
Finally, about 6 a.m. Feb. 26, a thin crescent moon has a brilliant Venus not far to its upper right — a spectacular sight.
Thinnest crescents at dawn and dusk. If you’re up for a really difficult challenge, you can try looking for a superslender moon at dawn on Feb. 28 and at dusk March 1. See “The Sky at A Glance” next week at www.skyandtelescope.com.
Fred Schaaf is a local author and astronomer. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.