Moon in the Middle

StarDate: January 1, 2010

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The skywatching year gets off to a great start tonight. The Moon is surrounded by twins, dogs, and a god of war. They form a pattern that looks like a giant letter "Y," with the Moon right in the middle.

Around 8 or 9 o'clock, look for the Moon in the east. It's just a couple of days past full, so sunlight illuminates almost the entire lunar disk.

The twins of Gemini line up to the upper left of the Moon -- the stars Pollux and Castor. Pollux is closer to the Moon, and it's the brighter of the two.

The "dogs" line up to the lower right of the Moon. Procyon, the leading light of Canis Minor, the little dog, is fairly close to the Moon. And Sirius, of Canis Major, the big dog, is a good bit farther along the same line. You won't have any trouble finding it, though, because it's the brightest star in the night sky.

Finally, down to the lower left of the Moon, look for the planet Mars. It'll be at its brightest for the entire year later this month, so it's putting on quite a show. It looks like a brilliant orange star. That color reminded long-ago skywatchers of blood, so they named the planet after the Roman god of war.

So look for the Moon standing in the middle of this bright astronomical lineup. They're in the east in early evening, and climb high across the south later on.

The Moon will stand beside Mars tomorrow night, so they'll form quite a pair. We'll have more about that on our next program.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2009

For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.

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