Wednesday morning January 22nd the waning crescent Moon crosses the plane of the ecliptic moving south. This is known as the descending node, one of two intersections the Moon’s orbital path (dark green line) has with the ecliptic.
Northern Hemisphere winter in addition to chilly or cold mornings may sort of warm you, at least in your mind. If you are outside looking at the sky, over the eastern horizon is a large triangular shape of three bright stars. One star each from three different constellations. Deneb in Cygnus the Swan, Vega in Lyra the Harp, and Altair in Aquila the Eagle. This is the asterism (star pattern but not a constellation) the Summer Triangle. There, warmer now?!
So if you are outside checking out the Summer Triangle, or perhaps Mars and nearby Antares and you have an optical aid like binoculars or a lower power wide-field eyepiece in your telescope aim them and your eyes toward the star Altair. In dark enough skies you can make out the stars making up Sagitta the Arrow a few degrees away from Altair.
As Altair is rising and with binoculars move the field of view up to the left until the stars of Sagitta fill the field of view. This small constellation, yes a constellation, could be used as a sort of pointer stars to look a few degrees away for a small open star cluster, Brocchi’s Cluster, or more commonly known as the ‘Coathanger Cluster’.
So if mornings with stars like this don’t warm you up then wait a few months of Earth revolution and these same stars will be showing up in the warmer evening skies of Northern Hemisphere summer and fall.
Monday morning before the Sun rises the 27-day old Moon waning crescent Moon will be about 4-5o from the ‘Red Planet’ Mars. Both will be over the southeastern horizon rising at least 2-3 hours ahead of the Sun.
Sunday November 24th there will a photo or viewing opportunity during the twilight hour before the Sun rises and after the sun has set. Starting off the day will be a conjunction involving the very thin waning crescent Moon near the ‘Red Planet’ Mars. The two will be separated by about 3-4o. Lower or to the east is the innermost planet Mercury.
Then, approximately 12 hours later, the Sun has or is about to set and over the western horizon is a cluster of 3 planets. Close together and separated by about 1-2o are the planets Jupiter and Venus. Higher or to the east is the planet Saturn.
Both of these conjunctions will look great through binoculars or a wide-field eyepiece on a telescope, and obviously will make for interesting pictures.
Our Moon reaches perigee, (closest distance to Earth), for this orbit, on Saturday October 26rd. At that time the Moon will be at a distance of 28.75 Earth diameters, 224,511 miles (361,316 km) from the Earth.
On the day of the perigee Moon the 27.5-day old very thin waning crescent Moon will be over the eastern horizon rising within about 5-6o from the planet Mars. Both will be rising about 1 hour before the Sun so it may be difficult to see them.
Does our Moon actually go around the Earth as this graphic shows? From our perspective on the Earth the Moon appears to circle around the Earth. However, in reality, the Moon orbits the Sun together with the Earth*
*Click here to read my 2006 Scope on the Sky column “The Real Shape of the Moon’s Orbit”. (PDF)
According to the pseudoscience of astrology the Sun enters the constellation of Scorpio the Scorpion on Wednesday October 23rd. When in fact the actual position of the Sun is still within the boundaries of the constellation of Virgo the Harvest Maiden.
Before the Sun rises on Wednesday morning watch for the 24-day old waning crescent Moon to be 4-5o from the ‘heart’ of Leo the lion, the star Regulus.