Here’s a waning crescent moon — 27% illuminated, with earthshine — and showing a humidity-induced lens flare. Photo: Greg Diesel Walck via EarthSky.org

EYES TO THE SKY: Crescent moon, planets to bedazzle the dawn, dusk

The celestial drama of the waning moon with planets unfolds at dawn within 20 degrees of the southeast horizon.

February 17 – March 1, 2020

Watch the moon occult (cover over) Mars Feb. 18. Image courtesy EarthSky.org

Mount Washington — The most alluring two weeks in the Moon’s cycle are about to begin. Each morning this week, one crescent moon after another – one more delicate than the one before – drops down a slanted ladder sketched by three planets in the southeast. The celestial drama of the waning moon with planets unfolds at dawn within 20 degrees of the southeast horizon. Most remarkable of all the days, tomorrow’s moon occults planet Mars! Mars will be hidden behind the crescent. In the diagram, Mars is shown in its place without the moon.

Be forewarned. Especially on the evening of Feb. 24, the young moon may be hard to catch, because the
whisker-thin crescent sits low in the western sky at sunset and then follows the sun beneath the horizon before nightfall. Image courtesy EarthSky.org

On Wednesday, red Mars, not very bright at 1.19 magnitude, will be back in view above brightest Jupiter at –1.93m, a crescent to its right. Next morning, the 20th, a fingernail crescent appears just below modest Saturn at 0.64m. Under ideal atmospheric conditions and with a view to the horizon, it might be possible to see a wisp of a crescent on the 21st.

Sunrise is at 6:48 a.m. today, 6:42 a.m. on Friday. Seek out a location to the southeast horizon by 5:45 a.m. to observe Mars and Saturn everyday. The moon and Jupiter may be visible until about 6:15 a.m.

Moon phases for Great Barrington. Image courtesy timeanddate.com

An intermission between acts is expected at great performances. The New Moon, when the moon is dark, occurs on the 23rd. See diagram of Sun, Moon, Earth alignment. Act II, the celestial drama of the waxing moon with the goddess planet, unfolds at the opposite time of day above the opposite horizon. The new cycle begins close above the western horizon following sunset on Monday the 24th, when sunset is at 5:37 p.m. Gaze into the sunset glow soon after 6 p.m. for a fine crescent of light. The brilliant Evening Star, Planet Venus at – 4.17m, shines 40 degrees above the horizon. Venus is increasing in brilliance and climbing higher in the sky every evening. Coincidentally, our moon appears more robust and higher in the sky each day. They meet on the 27th.

At New Moon, the Sun, the Moon and Earth are in alignment, technically known as a syzygy. Image courtesy timeanddate.com

Opportunities to participate

Teens and educators conduct citizen science
https://www.globeatnight.org/ and https://youtu.be/_kJLfOwzV-4
Feb. 17-23, March 14-24 ongoing https://www.globeatnight.org/5-steps.php

April 4 & 5, 2020, Northeast Astronomy Forum http://www.rocklandastronomy.com/neaf.html
April 2 & 3, Northeast Astro-Imaging Conference http://www.rocklandastronomy.com/neaic.html

Resources

https://earthsky.org/moon-phases/waning-crescent
https://www.timeanddate.com/moon/phases/@4938157 and https://www.timeanddate.com/astronomy/moon/waxing-crescent.html