By Peter Becker
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Full moon is this coming Tuesday (Feb. 3) and is nearly full for a next few nights before and after.
This week, should skies be clear, look a bit left of due west, about an hour after sunset for brilliant planet Venus. A small telescope will show Venus as a small white disc, the whiteness due to the eternal envelope of clouds surrounding this beastly hot world.
In the east the next clear evening, look for the brilliant planet Jupiter. A small telescope will immediately reveal a small, white disc, somewhat flattened on top and bottom, and as many as four moons on either or one side. The four largest moons of Jupiter, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto rival the size of our own moon but appear as stars in a small telescope. Look at them night to night and you will see how they are constantly shifting as they orbit.
Although most of the stars are hidden when there is a bright moon, Jupiter and Venus stand out boldly, and the winter sky has numerous bright stars you will see on any clear night.
Each night this month as we head toward new moon on Feb. 18, you will have to look about 40 minutes later each evening to see the moonrise. Our lovely satellite will be waning, that is, shrinking in its phase with less and less of the moon’s face bathed in sunlight.
The couple weeks between full and new moon are probably the most neglected as far as appreciating the moon, since most people retire to bed so early. Last-quarter moon is on Feb. 11, and rises around midnight. "Night owls" have the advantage of looking out at the moon at a time when most others don’t give it a glance. Some of them see it, however, the next morning once the Sun has made its faithful appearance; the moon, now a pale white, hangs alone in the blue morning sky, a surprise to some that think the Moon "only comes out at night." Look south, southwest or west for the moon at these times.
With binoculars take note of the moon’s right edge over the next couple nights, as the line between light and dark- called the "terminator"- progresses across a dark elliptical spot on the face of the Man of the Moon - known as the "Sea of Crises." The terminator line makes the rugged craters and mountains stand out in bold relief, seen with binoculars if held steady, and especially with a telescope of any size (which is mounted on a tripod or pedestal to keep it steady). The Sea of Crises is 376 miles in diameter and is actually nearly round; it appears as an ellipse due to foreshortening from our perspective.
Notes are welcome at news@neagle.com.
Keep looking up!