Thursday, May 12, 2011

Sky spy: Watch the ongoing predawn show

The moon rises at 2:14 p.m. this afternoon and sets at 2:29 Friday morning. It is a gibbous (more than half lit) moon that is waxing (growing larger) toward full moon next Tuesday.

It is a good time to look at the moon with binoculars or a small telescope. The large dark areas on the moon are called maria (mare singular) which means sea in Latin.

The early telescopic observers of the moon in the 1600s thought the dark areas were large bodies of water. We now know they are cooled lava beds leftover from vast volcanic eruptions on the moon 3 to 4 billion years ago.

In contrast to the maria are white or gray regions, which are highlands containing mountains, plains, and valleys. Craters are scattered all over the moon, and the southern portion of the moon, the southern highlands, is heavily covered with crater- speckled mountains and hills.

Don't forget about the ongoing planetary show in the predawn morning sky. Sometimes the best sky shows happen at the most inconvenient times.

Sunrise is at 5:27 Friday morning. A good way to start off Friday the 13th is to rise early and look at the eastern sky starting at 4:50 a.m. Get a low, unobstructed horizon. Brilliant Venus will catch your eye. Just above Venus will be Jupiter and just below Venus will be Mercury. A little off to the left (north) will be Mars.

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