Celestial Signs of Rebirth
February’s full moon straddles Thursday and Friday, appearing equally large both nights. The actual moment of totality is at 4:36am Friday, when the moon is opposite the sun with earth smack-dab between the two.
Despite some spring-like days, February often ushers in the heaviest snowfalls of the year, hence the names the Snow Moon and the Hunger Moon. But February also marks the stirrings of life, as names like the Sap Moon and the Worm Moon indicate.
By any name, this is a bright moon, washing out all but the strongest stars around it. Thursday night, the moon shines just a few degrees below blue-white Regulus, the heart of Leo the lion. Friday, the moon is a dozen degrees to the east of Regulus.
By Sunday, the waning gibbous moon rises at 9pm and is joined by Saturn and Spica, which together form a tight equilateral triangle. The next evening, the moon lines up a few degrees below Spica with Saturn at the opposite end. Saturn is brighter than Spica, but not by much. See if you can notice the difference.
Of all stars, Spica most personifies the coming of spring. It is the chaff of wheat clutched in the hand of the mourning mother Virgo, who awaits the annual return of her daughter from the underworld. She’s harder to see than Leo, you’ll have to strain your eyes and imagination to discern her indistinct form lying prone with her head to the west and her feet pointing to the east.
However, the apparent void of stars between Virgo and the tail of Leo is actually one of the richest in the heavens. Called The Realm of the Galaxies, this patch of sky contains the highest concentration of galaxies — thousands if not hundreds of thousands of them — many in the early stages of forming. Seen through binoculars or a small telescope, they appear as countless tiny lights.