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Moon, bright star, three planets before dawn February 23

2014-february-22-moon-antares-night-sky-chart

Tonight for February 22, 2014

The early morning sky on Sunday, February 23

The early morning sky on Sunday, February 23

The illuminated side of the waning moon points toward the dazzling planet Venus by the horizon.

The illuminated side of the waning moon points toward the dazzling planet Venus by the horizon.

On February 2014 evenings, the Orion stars Betelgeuse and Rigel line up, or nearly line up, with the dazzling planet Jupiter.

On February 2014 evenings, the Orion stars Betelgeuse and Rigel line up, or nearly line up, with the dazzling planet Jupiter.

The moon shines in the vicinity of the bright star Antares, and points the way to three morning planets – Mars, Saturn and Venus – in the early morning hours on February 23.

Antares is the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion. Notice that it shines with a reddish color. This star represents the ruby heart of the Scorpion. It’s the brightest light near the moon Sunday morning.

Otherwise, the illuminated and dark sides of the waning moon can help you to get your bearings for Sunday morning’s planet hunt. The lit side of the moon points east, or in the direction of sunrise. The unlit side of the moon points west. The golden point of light to the west of the moon Sunday morning is the ringed planet Saturn. You’ll need a telescope to see this planet’s glorious rings. To the unaided eye, Saturn looks like a golden star.

Now look even further to the west. The dark side of a waning moon also points toward the red planet Mars on Sunday. Although Mars shines close to the bright star Spica, you can easily distinguish Mars from Spica. Mars exhibits a ruddy hue whereas Spica sparkles blue-white.

To the east of the moon, you’ll find Venus, the brightest of the planets, on Sunday morning. The lighted side of the moon will be pointing toward Venus, but you won’t have any problem finding this planet if you’re outside before sunup. Venus is exceedingly bright, brighter than any object in the sky besides the sun and moon.

Now think about the moon and all three planets together. See how they make a graceful line across the predawn sky? This is the line of the ecliptic – the pathway of the moon and planets in front of the backdrop stars.

Because the moon always moves eastward through the constellations of the Zodiac, you can expect the moon to pair up with Venus after a few more days.

If you’re not one to wake up early, you can at least enjoy the evening planet, Jupiter. How can you spot it? Easy. It’s the brightest object in the evening sky.

Bottom line: The moon points the way to the bright star Antares and three morning planets before dawn on February 23. The planets are Mars, Saturn and Venus.

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