Last week, cloudy skies dashed the hopes of dedicated skywatchers in the northeastern US, up at the wee hours to catch a glimpse of an asteroid occluding, or blocking, the light of Leo's brightest star, Regulus. Such is the plight of skywatchers everywhere. No matter how diligent our efforts, how ardent our desires, how unusual the event, the Earth's weather can heartlessly thwart our chance to spot a waning crescent moon before sunrise, enjoy meteor showers after midnight, or view a lunar eclipse.
Weather permitting, all three of such celestial sights will be available for the North American skywatcher within the next month. First up, a lovely conjunction between the moon and Venus, occurring tomorrow morning. Rising a little more than 2 hours before sunrise, the moon lights close above the "Morning Star," a lovely pairing amid the faint stars of the constellation Capricornus. While nautical twilight ends an hour after the two have cleared the eastern rim, viewers should still be able to see our brightest luminaries of the night skies even as the other stars fade in the approaching sun's rays.
Venus and the crescent moon at nightfall 11 January. This is the waxing moon, a few days past new. with Venus in her evening apparition. Now, some 10 weeks later, Venus is visible in the morning sky... in her morning appartion, and tomorrow and Friday will pair with the waning crescent moon. Image courtesy of APOD.
If you miss the view tomorrow morning, the two will still be visible Friday morning, although the moon will have slipped past Venus, showing up just a little slimmer and just a little later in Capricornus. For those willing to head out early enough, both mornings should give viewers ample opportunity to spot "earthshine," the sun's light reflected from the Earth onto the darkened part of the moon's orb. By Saturday morning, the moon will rise around the same time that nautical twilight ends, approximately an hour before sunrise, making it difficult to spot its slender crescent arc.
The final new moon of March occurs early Sunday and marks the beginning of this spring's eclipse season. As the moon waxes, it approaches its rendezvous with the Earth's shadow, scheduled to occur during the full moon on April 14. That night, North American residents will be able to watch a total lunar eclipse with the moon taking 3 1/2 hours to clear the Earth's shadow. A week later, the Lyriad meteor showers are set to fly as usual. More on these great events to come.
By the way, if you miss the waning moon the next few mornings, look low in the west on Monday, the last night of March, and you might be lucky to spot the waxing crescent moon hanging close to the horizon. A dedicated skywatcher knows every night offers fantastic sights, weather permitting.