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Mars’ west quadrature on February 7

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The red planet Mars swings to west quadrature on February 7, 2016. That means that – if you had a bird’s-eye view of the solar system – you’d see the sun, Earth and Mars making a right (90-degree) angle in space, with Earth at the vertex of this angle. It means the best time to see Mars in 2016 – in fact, the best time in about two years – is just ahead! Follow the links inside to learn more.

Red Rectangle’s unearthly beauty

The Red Rectangle Nebula, via ESA

The Red Rectangle Nebula, via the Hubble Space Telescope, ESA and NASA.

The Red Rectangle Nebula is a star in the last stages of its life. The star has puffed up and begun to shed its outer layers. The X-shape probably means something is preventing the uniform expansion of the star’s atmosphere, but what?

See the beautiful Double Cluster in Perseus

Cassiopeia and Perseus.

Cassiopeia and Perseus.

Face the northwestern horizon as darkness falls on winter evenings to find the Double Cluster in the constellation Perseus. Look above the M- or W-shaped constellation Cassiopeia. You may see the Double Cluster as a faint smudge of light, if your sky is dark enough. Binoculars will reveal a double smudge – really, two clusters of stars. Each cluster contains 300 to 400 stars at over 7,000 light-years away.

Fossilized lacewing butterfly

A photo of the modern owl butterfly (Caligo Memnon) shown below a fossilized Kalligrammatid lacewing (Oregramma illecebrosa) shows some of the convergent features independently evolved by the two distantly-related insects, including wing eyespots and wing scales. Image via James Di Loreto / Smithsonian

Fossilized Kalligrammatid lacewing (Oregramma illecebrosa). Image via James Di Loreto / Smithsonian

A record etched in rock from 120 million years ago shows the fragile beauty of an ancient butterfly-like insect.

Somber Betelgeuse in Orion’s shoulder

You can recognize Orion for the short, straight row of three medium-bright stars at its midsection. Betelgeuse is the somber red star in the Shoulder of the Hunter.

You can recognize Orion for the short, straight row of three medium-bright stars at its midsection. Betelgeuse is the somber red star in the Shoulder of the Hunter.

Tonight, look for ruddy-hued Betelgeuse, one of the sky’s most famous stars. Kids especially like Betelgeuse, because its name sounds so much like beetle juice. The movie by that same name perpetuated this pronunciation. But astronomers pronounce it differently. We say BET-el-jews.

February 2016 guide to the 5 bright planets

Skywatcher, by Predrag Agatonovic.

Skywatcher, by Predrag Agatonovic.

You can see all 5 bright planets – Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter – together in the sky before dawn, through mid-February.

See it! All 5 bright planets at once

The 5 planets can be seen from around the world.  Their orientation to the horizon is different from one part of Earth to another. Denis Crute in Australia caught the 5 planets and the moon from the Southern Hemisphere on February 2, 2016.

The 5 planets can be seen from around the world. Their orientation to the horizon is different from one part of Earth to another. Denis Crute in Australia caught the 5 planets and the moon from the Southern Hemisphere on February 2, 2016.

Best photos from the EarthSky community of the 5 bright planets now visible at once in the sky before dawn. Thanks to all who posted!

How far is Betelgeuse?

 Betelgeuse imaged in ultraviolet light by the Hubble Space Telescope and subsequently enhanced by NASA. The bright white spot is likely one of this star's poles. Image via NASA/ESA.

Betelgeuse imaged in ultraviolet light by the Hubble Space Telescope. Image via NASA/ESA.

Finding star distances isn’t easy. Here’s how it’s done, and why astronomers recently modified the distance estimate to the famous star Betelgeuse.

Moon, Venus, Mercury on February 6

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Before dawn on February 6, 2016 … think photo opportunity! The crescent moon and the planets Venus and Mercury convene in the morning sky, just as darkness wanes toward dawn on this Saturday morning.

Violent, head-on crash created moon

On this episode of EarthSky News, an update on the idea that the early Earth collided with a Mars-sized proto-planet to make the moon. That and more. Join us.