Volume 14, Issue 12 ~ March 23 - March 29, 2006

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Sky Watch

by J. Alex Knoll

Traveling the Solar System

Plenty of sights close to home

The waning moon rides close alongside the sun this week before reaching new phase Wednesday the 29th. Early that morning, the moon’s darkened disc will blot out the sun — but only for those in a swath across the Southern Hemisphere beginning in Brazil, across the Atlantic, over Africa, through the Middle East all the way to Mongolia. A section of Lybia 300 miles wide will be plunged into darkness for almost five minutes.

Early Monday a sliver of moon rises in the southeast around 5am with Venus perched less than 10 degrees above the upper tip of the crescent. Both will disappear soon afterward amid the glare of the sun, which rises just after 6am. Before sunrise the following morning look for an ever-so-thin piece of moon just five degrees below Mercury. You’ll need clear skies and an unobscured view of the southeast horizon.

Saturday, Venus reaches its greatest morning elongation — its angled point farthest west of the sun, 47 degrees. Even so the morning star climbs only 11 degrees above our horizon before sunrise.

Mars appears high overhead in the northeastern corner of Taurus at twilight. Mars has lost much of its brilliance over the past two months, dimming from magnitude –0.6 to magnitude 1.2.

Saturn hovers high overhead at sunset, around 6:30pm, and sets near 3:30am in the northwest. Binoculars show the rings’ bulge, whereas a modest telescope reveals them as well as Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. Look at Saturn early in the evening and then again before it sets: You’ve witnessed almost a complete revolution, as one day on Saturn is roughly 11 hours long.

Jupiter rises in the southeast near the fulcrum of the scales of Libra. Daybreak finds both planet and constellation low in the southwest.

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