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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Six more weeks of winter, regardless

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Today, Feb. 2, is Groundhog Day. The day set aside to see if the prognosticating rodent in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, can determine how many more weeks of winter there will be.

Feb. 2, is one of the cross-quarter days, a day that is roughly half way between a solstice and an equinox. In this case it is halfway between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox, or the beginning of spring.

But really, if you count the weeks on the calendar there will be six weeks of winter no matter what the groundhog sees.

The planet Neptune has slipped into the glare of the evening sunset and lost to view, however, there are still many other planets in the evening sky to provide us with a lot of viewing pleasure.

By far the brightest is our sister planet, Venus. Not only is it the brightest object in the early evening sky, it will soon provide another locating helper for the planet Uranus.

Starting on Monday, Feb. 6 and continuing until Sunday, Feb. 12, Venus and the distant gas giant will be in the same binocular field of view. The best evening for viewing will be Thursday, Feb. 9, when they will be the closest. Look at about 6:30 p.m. local time.

If you feel up to a viewing challenge, swing your binoculars slightly left for about half a field of view width and look for a tiny dot that is the dwarf planet Ceres. Ceres used to be considered as being possibly another planet.

It resides in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. When Pluto was demoted and the category "dwarf planet" was created, Ceres, along with several other large asteroids were placed in that group, a deed which still sticks in the craw of many in the world of astronomy.

Another bright object in the evening sky just after sunset is the gas giant Jupiter. It can be found high in the southeastern sky just up and left of Venus.

Over the next few weeks watch the pair as Venus moves ever closer to Jupiter. The pair will have a very close conjunction on March 12.

Not to be left out of all the fun, reddish Mars will join its planetary kin just after 10 p.m. local time beginning on Thursday, Feb. 9. On that date look for a just-past-full moon just below and right of Mars.

Mars is growing brighter and bigger moving toward a March 3 opposition. Opposition means it will be opposite the sun in the sky. It will rise at sunset and set at sunrise and will be at its closest to us for the year.

I am also expecting the Great Mars Hoax to raise its ugly head any time now. The hoax is a story that has been going around the Internet since 2003 when Mars was at another opposition, this one an unusually close one and it appeared very bright and big in the night sky.

If you get any e-mails about Mars being as big as the full moon just do what I do, hit the delete key.

The final planetary visitor to our sky is ringed Saturn. It will be rising in the southeast just after midnight.

SKY WATCH: Full moon, Tuesday, Feb. 7. Venus and Uranus in close conjunction all this week. The moon and Mars also in conjunction on Thursday, Feb. 9. Best viewed at about 10pm local time.

NEXT WEEK: More astronomical blathering.

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Vernon Whetstone
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