by William J. Bechaver
This week, the Moon will find all the visible outer planets in the morning sky. But what’s more impressive, for a time, it will hide one of them.
During the early morning hours of Tuesday 18 February, the Moon will actually pass in front of the planet Mars, and everyone in the western United States is perfectly located to witness this amazing planetary event.
Just after three-thirty in the morning, the Moon will rise, followed only six minutes later by the planet Mars, just below and to the left of the Moon.
The planet is distant so will be dim, just below the bright limb of the crescent Moon, so it may be useful to use a pair of binoculars to better view the red planet next to the brightness of the Moon.
As the two rise higher into the sky, the Moon will slowly move over lower Mars, and the planet will pass behind the edge of the Moon.
Watch for the Moon to cover Mars about an hour after they rise, at 04:40 local Mountain Time. It will take about fifteen seconds for the entire disk of Mars to be covered behind the edge of the Moon.
Mars will remain concealed behind the Moon for about an hour and twenty minutes, until it will emerge from the darkened side of the Moon, at 06:00, about forty-five minutes before sunrise.
In Colorado, the sky will begin to lighten slightly before the event is over, at six o’clock, so with the lightening sky, it will be prudent to also use binoculars to watch the emergence.
The following morning, Wednesday 19 February, the Moon will be very near Jupiter. The crescent Moon will rise just after 04:20, with Jupiter rising about ten minutes later, to its lower left. The Moon will get closer to the gas giant as they rise higher, and are finally lost to the glare of the morning sky two hours later, before sunrise.
The Moon will actually pass in front of Jupiter that day, also. But you would have to be in Antarctica or on the southern tip of South America to witness that event. There is no place on Earth to witness both events.
And the following morning, Thursday 20 February, the Moon will rise just after 05:10, about ten minutes after Saturn, which though dim, will appear above and to the left of the ever thinning crescent Moon. You will have about an hour and a half to view the rising pair before the Sun rises. See how long you can discern the ringed planet next to the fine Moon, as the gap between the two closes before dawn.
So, this week, the Moon will actually point the way to all of the planets visible in the morning sky, and on Tuesday, it will actually hide one for a time. All three pairings will be spectacular, with Tuesday’s rare event being the most memorable and noteworthy.
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Astronomical Times And Distances of naked-eye objects for this weekend.
Sun Set = 5:37 p.m.
7 minute later than last week
91.81 million miles from Earth
123,259 miles further than last week
Mercury Set = 6:58 p.m.
1 minute earlier than last week
74.43 million miles from Earth
17,848,230 miles nearer than last week
Venus Set = 9:07 p.m.
13 minutes later than last week
91.86 million miles from Earth
4,458,365 miles nearer than last week
Moon Rise = 1:17 a.m.
8 hours 19 minutes later than last week
235,589 miles from Earth
10,756 miles further than last week
Mars Rise = 3:30 a.m.
6 minutes earlier than last week
169.40 million miles from Earth
5,278,895 miles nearer than last week
Jupiter Rise = 4:39 a.m.
22 minutes earlier than last week
550.61 million miles from Earth
6,477,253 miles nearer than last week
Saturn Rise = 5:15 a.m.
25 minutes earlier than last week
1.01 billion miles from Earth or
1,010.21 million miles from Earth
5,012,734 miles nearer than last week
Sun Rise = 6:47 a.m.
8 minutes earlier than last week
91.82 million miles from Earth
124,821 miles further than last week
10,522 miles further than last night
Third Quarter Moon occurs on Saturday, February 15th, at 3:17 p.m.
Note: Times are local Mountain Time. Actual sundown is about ten minutes earlier than calculated sunset. Along the front range, differing times vary depending on your distance from the mountains.
• · William J. Bechaver is the director of SPACE • Spanish Peaks Amateur Cosmos Enthusiasts, the premier Astronomical Society for Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico.
The planets and their relative positions in the solar system for this weekend.–
–Planet sizes and distances are obviously not to scale.