EYES TO THE SKY: Harbinger of spring Lion, Full Snow Moon, Jupiter and Spica

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By Monday, Feb 6 Learning
The Winter Hexagon as it will appear on Feb. 7. Image courtesy EarthSky.org

February 6 – 19, 2017

Watch the moon pass in front of the constellation Leo the Lion over the next few days. The green line depicts the ecliptic – Earth’s orbital plane projected onto the constellations of the zodiac.

Watch the moon pass in front of the constellation Leo the Lion over the next few days. The green line depicts the ecliptic – Earth’s orbital plane projected onto the constellations of the zodiac.

Mt. Washington — Tonight an oval moon shines from the center of the broad Winter Circle, also known as the Winter Hexagon, which is shaped by the season’s most outstanding stars – please refer to the Addendum and illustrations for details. Similar to last month, the waxing (increasing in size) gibbous (greater than half) moon moves within and to the edge of the circle for a few nights. On Friday the 10th, pause to observe the full moon climb above the east-northeast horizon at 5:12 p.m.; technically, full phase is reached at 7:33 p.m. This Full Snow Moon leads Leo the Lion, the harbinger of spring constellation, into the evening sky. Look for Leo’s brightest star, Regulus, as it rises below the moon at about 6 p.m.; they will travel in tandem all night.

Look for the moon to shine close to Jupiter on the sky’s dome for several days, centered on or near Feb. 15. Courtesy of EarthSky.org

Look for the moon to shine close to Jupiter on the sky’s dome for several days, centered on or near Feb. 15. Courtesy of EarthSky.org

Next morning, before and until dawn on Saturday the 11th, take delight in the enchanting sight of the barely-past-full moon leading the Lion toward the western horizon. The stars of Leo will fade soon after 6 a.m. but the moon can be seen setting in the west until 7 o’clock. Planet Jupiter shines brightly rather high in the southwest until about 6:30 a.m. With keen vision and concentration, Jupiter may be teased out of the lit blue sky until 15–20 minutes before sunrise.

Every morning during the span of this post, it is worth the effort to be at a location with a west-southwest view an hour before sunrise to see the pairing of Jupiter with Virgo’s brightest star, bluish Spica. Beginning next Monday the 13th, the waning moon will move closer to Jupiter until, on the morning of the 15th, an oval moon makes its closest approach to the great planet. Look up by 6 a.m. to see the threesome – Jupiter, Spica and Luna – for several days next week. Jupiter is easily seen with the gibbous moon until about 6:15, half an hour before sunrise. Sunrise is at 7:04 on the 6th and 6:43 on the 19th.

Addendum:

The Hexagon Gathering from the Southworth Planetarium, University of Southern Maine, Portland. Winter's hallmark constellations and their brightest stars.

The Hexagon Gathering from the Southworth Planetarium,
University of Southern Maine, Portland. Winter’s hallmark constellations and their brightest stars.

“THE WINTER HEXAGON: A star pattern consisting of Sirius (Canis Major), Rigel (Orion), Aldebaran (Taurus), Capella (Auriga), Castor-Pollux (Gemini) and Procyon (Canis Minor). The Winter Hexagon is not an asterism, defined as a distinct star pattern within a constellation. Instead, it is an agglomeration of stars from different constellations. It is named the “Winter Hexagon,” as it is prominent in the winter.” –From http://usm.maine.edu/planet/october-21-2014-hexagon-gathering

Opportunity to Participate:

McDonald Observatory is still accepting applications for its 2017 summer K-12 Teacher Professional Development Workshops. The application deadline is Monday, Feb. 6. Late applications may still be considered, but first priority will be given to applications submitted by the deadline. They are offering five scholarship workshops this year, ranging in topic and grade level. For more information on all available workshops, and the application form, visit: http://mcdonaldobservatory.org/teachers/profdev/

 


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