OK, total moment of honesty here. Gordons “Full Moon report” has been sitting in my inbox for a week, but sickness and all-day meetings kept me from getting it online. I saw the moon tonight (and it’s beautiful) and it reminded me what a slacker I’ve been. So now I’m posting this from my cell phone. I’ll fix any formatting issues later… Thanks again Gordon!
The next full Moon is on Monday, February 25, 2013. The Moon will be 180 degrees away from the Sun in Earth-based longitude at 3:26 pm EST, and will appear full for about three days around this time, from Saturday night/Sunday morning through Tuesday evening/Wednesday morning. As the last full Moon of Winter, this Moon is known as the Worm Moon, Sap Moon, Crow Moon, Crust Moon, or Sugar Moon. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, the native tribes of what is now the northern and eastern U.S. named this the Worm Moon after the earthworm casts that appear as the ground thaws. The more northern tribes knew this as the Crow Moon, when the cawing of crows signaled the end of Winter. Other northern names are the Crust Moon, because the snow cover becomes crusted from thawing by day and freezing at night, or the Sap Moon as this is the time for tapping maple trees. Europeans called this the Lenten Moon, as the next Moon, the first full Moon in Spring, occurs just before Easter. This is the time of year when (for the northern hemisphere, at least) the evening sky is full of bright stars. Our Sun is on the inner edge of one of the spiral arms of our galaxy, and as we look up in the early evenings, we are looking away from the center of the galaxy but towards the densely packed stars of this spiral arm. After sunset this band of bright stars sweeps across our sky from the southeast to the northwest. The bright planet Jupiter is also appearing in the evening sky, falling within this band of stars. >From northern latitudes, when the sky has darkened after sunset, look for the three stars of Orion’s belt. Follow the line of the belt to the upper right to find the Jupiter (and near Jupiter, the bright star Aldebaran). Follow the line of Orion’s belt about the same distance to the lower left to find the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius. Jupiter was at its brightest and closest to the Earth for this cycle back in early December 2012, and over the coming months will appear to grow fainter as its distance from the Earth increases. Taking over for Jupiter, the planet Saturn will appear to increase in brightness as it draws closer to Earth, with Saturn’s closest approach occurring in late April, 2013. For the Washington, DC area, on the day of the February full Moon, Saturn will rise at around 11 pm EST, by the March full Moon Saturn will be rising at about 10 pm EDT. As far as we know, no large objects are passing within the distance between the Earth and the Moon between now and the full Moon after next. On February 18th (just a few hours ago as I am writing this) a 10-to-15 meter diameter object passed by the Earth at about 1.3 lunar distances, traveling at about 17 kilometers per second relative to the Earth. On March 18th a 15-to-30 meter diameter object will pass about 4.4 lunar distances from the Earth at about 11 kilometers per second. As a comparison, the object that shattered windows in Russia was about 17 meters in diameter and traveling at about 18 kilometers per second. While not passing anywhere near the Earth, a comet MIGHT put on a good show in March. The comet is named Pan-STARRS. In June 2011 it was discovered by (and named after) the Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System, which scans the sky for Earth-approaching objects that might cause us harm. This comet will remain farther away from the Earth than the distance from the Earth to the Sun. However, this appears to be the first time this comet has left the Oort cloud beyond Pluto and entered the inner solar system. It will be passing slightly closer to the Sun than the orbit of Mercury. As a fresh comet passing close to the Sun, it might produce a spectacular trail of gas and dust. Since we know almost nothing about this object there is no way to be sure. After the comet passes its closest to the Sun onMarch 10, 2013, it will move into the northern skies, which could provide those of us in the northern hemisphere a good view of whatever kind of show it puts on. The best time to look will probably be March 12th or 13th, when the comet is still relatively close to the Sun (which should mean solar heating will be releasing more gas and dust, and this gas and dust will appear brighter in the sky) but far enough from the Sun to be visible after sunset. If it is really bright, it could be visible for weeks after this. While it is easy to predict where the comet will be, it is very hard to predict how bright it will appear, so the best thing to do is to check skywatching web sites, pay attention to the news, and go out and look!As to specific celestial events between now and the full Moon after next: * This evening (Monday evening, February 18, 2013), for the Northern hemisphere, the waxing gibbous Moon will appear about 7 degrees to the left side of Jupiter, with the bright star Aldebaran below and about halfway between. As the evening progresses Jupiter and the Moon will appear to drift farther apart, with Jupiter (and Aldebaran) setting Tuesday morning, February 19, 2013, in the west-northwest around 1:45 am EST (for the Washington, DC area), and the Moon setting 35 minutes later. * On Sunday night and Monday morning, February 24 and 25, 2013 the nearly full Moon will appear about 6 degrees from the bright star Regulus. * As mentioned above, the full Moon will be onMonday, February 25, 2013. * On Thursday evening and Friday morning, February 28 and March 1, 2013, the waning gibbous Moon will appear within about 2 degrees from the bright star Spica. The will appear at their closest at about 1 am EST on March 1st. * The next night, Friday evening and Saturday morning, March 1 and 2, 2013, the waning gibbous Moon will appear about 5 degrees from the bright planet Saturn. They will appear at their closest at about 4 am EST on March 2nd (and this is also about the time the appear highest in the sky, at least for the Washington, DC area). * In the morning on Monday, March 4, 2013, the last quarter Moon will appear about 6 degrees above the bright star reddish star Antares. Don’t forget to march forth on March fourth! * On March 5, 2013, the comet Pan-STARRS will pass at its closest to Earth at about 1.10 Astronomical Units (or about 10% farther than the distance from the Earth to the Sun). * On Sunday morning, March 10, 2013, we “spring forward” with the start of Daylight Savings Time. Don’t forget to set your clocks ahead one hour. For the Washington, DC area, on Saturday March 9th sunrise will be at 6:28 am EST and sunset at6:09 pm EST, while on Sunday March 10th sunrise will be at 7:27 am EDT and sunset at 7:10 pm EDT. The shift to Daylight Savings Time moves the time of sunrise, rounded to the nearest minute, to match the the latests sunrises of the year. In 2013, for the Washington DC area, rounded to the nearest minute, sunrise was or will be at 7:27 am from January 1st to January 10th, on March 10th, and on December 30th and 31st. * Also on Sunday, March 10, 2013, the comet Pan-STARRS will be at its closest to the Sun, passing about as close to the Sun as the orbit of Mercury. * Monday afternoon/evening, March 11, 2013, will be the new Moon. * On Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, March 12 and 13, 2013, in the glow of twilight about 30 minutes after sunset, look to the west, close to the horizon, for the thin crescent Moon and near it the comet Pan-STARRS. On Tuesday the comet should appear just to the left of the crescent Moon. On Wednesday the Moon will have shifted higher in the sky, appearing above the comet. For the Washington DC area, sunset will be about 7:13 pmEDT, civil twilight will end at about 7:40 pm EDT (a good time to look), and the comet will set around8:20 pm EDT. These may be the best evenings to view this comet but we are not sure. The comet could break apart when it is close to the Sun and fizzle out after a few days, or it could produce spectacular dust and gas tails, putting on a bright show that gets better as it appears higher in the evening sky after the 13th. * On Saturday, March 16, 2013, the waxing crescent Moon will appear about 7 degrees from the Pleiades star cluster. * On Sunday, March 17, 2013 (St. Patrick’s Day), the waxing crescent Moon will appear between the bright planet Jupiter and the bright star Aldebaran. Jupiter will appear about 2 degrees above and to the right of the Moon, while Aldebaran will appear about 4 degrees to the left of the Moon. * Tuesday afternoon/evening, March 19, 2013, the waxing Moon will appear half full as it reaches its first quarter. * Wednesday morning, March 20, 2013, at 7:01 amEDT, is the Spring equinox, the astronomical end of Winter and start of Spring. * As the sky darkens on Sunday March 24, 2013, the bright star Regulus will appear about 8 degrees above the waxing gibbous Moon. As the evening wears on they will appear to drift farther apart. * The full Moon after next is on Wednesday morning, March 27, 2013.