Volume 14, Issue 6 ~ February 9 - February 15, 2006

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Sky Watch

by J. Alex Knoll

The Quickening

All around, earth’s pulse is picking up its pace

Perhaps you’ve noticed the brightening sky upon waking in the morning, as daybreak creeps earlier day by day. At week’s end, the sun rises a few minutes past seven, but come Wednesday it rises at 6:59. That’s nearly a half-hour gain from a month ago, and the same holds for sunset, near 5:45 this week.

The six weeks between the first cross-quarter day, celebrated as Groundhog Day, and equinox is known as the quickening, as life returns to the land like a runner sprinting the final stretch toward the finish line. Sap begins again to flow through the trees; birds build new nests; shoots of the earliest spring flowers pierce the frozen soil. All around, us the earth’s pulse is picking up its pace.

In the heavens, too, you’ll find signs of spring. Darkness reveals the spring constellation Auriga, the charioteer, almost directly overhead. Gemini, Cancer, Leo and Virgo follow. Virgo, or Demeter, is the goddess of land and harvest, the grieving mother of Persephone, who was tricked by Hades into marrying the god of the underworld. For six months of each year Persephone dwells with her husband in the land of the dead, and during that time, her mother’s sorrow brings death to the crops and sets winter upon the land.

But in the spring, Persephone returns to the land of the living, and by the start of spring, marked by the vernal equinox March 21, Virgo rises in the east as the sun sets in the west.

Back in the present, Mars hangs high in the west at sunset, and Saturn is high in the east. Look for Saturn near the moon Friday and Saturday nights.

Jupiter rises in the southeast around 1am, and travels amid the scales of the constellation Libra. By 6am, Jupiter shines mid-way above the southern horizon as Venus creeps into view in the southeast, with both winking out of sight at sunrise.

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