Eyes to the Sky: Four planets, waxing moon, lion, crow


The brightest object in the sky that looks like a star is Venus. The planet is returning as the Evening Star for short periods of viewing in the west-northwest in early twilight, from about 8:30 until 9 tonight. A clear view of the horizon is essential. Venus appears below bright Jupiter. See planet Mercury on Venus' right next Wednesday. More about these marvels next week.

The waxing (increasing) first quarter (half) moon occurs just after midnight tonight beginning a week of robust gibbous (larger than half) disks that will light springtime evenings for bucolic pastimes. Today, see the half-moon climb into the east-southeastern sky all afternoon. When darkness falls it is high in the south, below one of the most splendid constellations in the heavens, Leo the Lion. In the coming days the moon guides us, successively, to Leo, Corvus the Crow, Spica and Saturn.

Leo is truly a lion in the sky, a signature constellation of spring that is sure to delight all ages. Its head is a great arc -- the mane is palpable -- from which a few stars descend. This shape is described as a backward question mark or sickle. The lion figure stretches to the left, where it ends in a triangle of stars, the animal's haunches and tail. The bright, blue-white star above and to the left of the moon tonight is Regulus, Latin for "little king." Regulus is sometimes pictured as the heart of the lion and others as its left foot, depending on whether Leo is striding or seated as a sphinx.

Tomorrow and Sunday Regulus is above and to the right of Luna. Find the kite-like quadrilateral of stars, the constellation Corvus the Crow, below the oval moon on Monday. On Tuesday, Spica is to Luna's left and on Wednesday it is Saturn.


CORRECTION: The headline "Crossing the tail of Halley's Comet" that my editor put on the May 3 column is technically incorrect. The tail of a comet comes with the comet. A meteor shower is Earth moving through the remnants of the long gone comet, hence "debris stream" or some such phrase is more accurate.

To contact Judy Isacoff go to www.naturesturn.org


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