Today is the 100th anniversary of Halley's Comet passing the sun in 1910. And Wednesday is the 100th anniversary of the death of Mark Twain, who said he would "go out" with the comet. I will have more to say about those events in an upcoming column. The main topic today is the sights of the week.
Use the moon to ID planets, stars: As the moon cycles into its full phase, it is located near two planets and two bright stars. This provides beginners with a good opportunity to identify the planets and stars and all of us with some pretty sights.
The moon is often visible in the daytime sky. At 2:19 p.m. Wednesday, if the sky is clear, you can see the moon exactly half-lit, the phase known as "first quarter" (because it is one quarter of the way through the moon's full set of phases from new moon to new moon). Just look a little less than halfway up the east sky and you will see the moon with a perfect D-shape, looking pale white and fragile like a piece of china.
On Wednesday night, you can begin to look for the planets and stars near the moon. An hour or two after sunset, look for a bright point of light not too far to the upper left of the moon. That light is Mars, although its brightness has faded from its peak in January.
On Thursday night, the moon will be located to the lower right of the bright star Regulus, which marks the heart of Leo the Lion. On Friday night, the moon is to the lower left of the star. By then, the moon will be quite bright so Regulus will appear somewhat subdued in luster.
On Saturday, a steadily shining point of light will appear well to the left of the moon. On Sunday, the same object will shine well above the moon. That object is the planet Saturn. If you don't have access to a telescope to see its rings, just wait a few weeks. I will tell you about another free local skywatch where you can get views of the rings and much more.
There is one more object to identify using the moon before next Tuesday. On Monday night, look carefully and you will see a point of light close to the lower left of the moon. It is Spica, the brightest star of the constellation Virgo.
Lyrid meteor shower: If the hours before dawn Thursday or Friday are clear, you may be able to see a number of shooting stars. On those mornings, after the bright moon sets but before morning twilight, the Lyrid meteor shower is near its peak and observers far from city lights may see as many as five or 10 of them per hour. But you can never tell the intensity. In 1982, the Lyrids surprised everyone with a brief burst of about 90 meteors per hour.
Fred Schaaf is a local author and astronomer. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org