Moon and Company
The Moon may be the brightest object in the night sky, but tonight it follows a few other luminaries like the caboose of a train. The lineup chugs across the western sky during the evening, and sets after midnight.
As darkness falls, and the Technicolor of twilight gives way to the monochrome of night, look for the Moon high in the southwest.
The Moon will be at first quarter early tomorrow, so sunlight illuminates half of the lunar hemisphere that faces our way. Over the next few days, the bright portion will grow fatter and fatter, until the Moon is full on the 18th. At the same time, the Moon will move steadily eastward against the background of stars and planets, leaving tonight's companions far behind.
Look to the right and lower right of the Moon for the other cars in this celestial train. The one that's closest to the Moon is the planet Saturn. It looks like a bright star. The true star Regulus is just a little away from Saturn. It's the "heart" of Leo, the lion.
Then follow the line from the Moon to Regulus farther to the lower right until you come to Mars.
The differences between Saturn, Regulus, and Mars are subtle, but if you look closely you may pick them out. Saturn has a slightly golden color, Regulus is almost pure white, and Mars is orange. And Saturn is roughly twice as bright as the other two.
All three precede the Moon as it travels down the sky -- bringing up the rear of a celestial train.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.