By nightfall, Mercury is visible about 12 degrees above the west-northwestern horizon and sets mid-evening. Mercury’s orbit is closest to the sun. After a month’s evening appearance, it will descend toward the setting sun end of this week.
Bright Jupiter and its satellite moons drift westward below the Gemini Twins: Castor and Pollux. They set before midnight Aim binoculars to the dim Beehive cluster left of the Twins. Procyon (Orion’s Little Dog) trots toward the western horizon. Procyon is the last constellation visible in the parade of blazing winter stars below the horizon. Capella guides Auriga, the Charioteer, lower in the northwest. The Big Dipper hangs in the north. Its bowl always faces downward to Polaris, North Star. Bright Arcturus, the Herdsman, sparkles overhead. Binoculars reveal the stellar necklace, Corona Borealis, a few degrees east of Arcturus. Leo, the Lion, crawls westward. Corvus, the Crow, flies across the south.
Mars glows high in the east in Virgo. During its close pass by Earth, a thin white ice cap and dark canyons on the martian surface are visible in telescopes. Spica, in Virgo, follows Mars.
The compact star cluster Omega Centauri shimmers low in the south. Silver Saturn rises higher in the southeast in Libra. About 10 p.m. huge Scorpius climbs over the southeastern horizon. Antares, a red supergiant, is the heart in the Scorpion’s torso. Hercules leads Vega, in Lyra the Harp, and the vast Summer Triangle higher in the northeast. By midnight the Sagittarian Teapot appears in the southeast. Pegasus, the Winged Horse, peers over the eastern horizon.
The crescent moon leads the Lion westward. Southbound Comet PANSTARRS cruises across the Big Dipper.
First Quarter Moon occurs 4:39 p.m. Tonight, aim binoculars to the tops of craters protruding from the straight shadow line of the moon.
About 5:30 a.m., brilliant Venus, Morning Star, glows in the east in Pisces. Blue-green Uranus lies left of Venus. Dim Neptune rises in the southeast by 1:30 a.m. in Aquarius and sails across the south at dawn.
Fomalhaut twinkles low in the southeast. Bright Capella appears on the northeastern horizon. Westbound Vega leads the Summer Triangle overhead. Cygnus, the Swan, soars within the Triangle. Arcturus sparkles low in the northwest. Scorpius crawls into the southwest closely followed by the Sagittarian Teapot. Capricornus, the Sea Goat, wanders into the south.
Tonight the bright moon floats 2 degrees from Mars.
Compiled by Barb Yager, Southern Cross Astronomical Society, 305-661-1375, scas.org