On Friday, Jupiter rises at 4:08 a.m., followed by Venus a half-hour later. The bright planets are separated by less than 10 degrees, and are joined by a tiny sliver of the 26½-day-old waning crescent moon.
A little after 6 a.m. Saturn rises an hour and a half before sunrise. That evening, Mars — in Pisces, climbing through Aries over the month — sits near the western horizon about 9 p.m. Mars is less than 1 degree from Uranus on the night of Feb. 12. Uranus is right at the limit of naked-eye observation, so a pair of binoculars should allow you a glimpse of the giant planet as a pale green dot.
On Feb. 10, the waxing crescent moon joins Mars in the night sky. The nearly full waxing gibbous moon is right in Praesepe, or the Beehive, M-44, on the night of Feb. 17, and a waning crescent joins Jupiter early in the morning of Feb. 27.
Early in the evening of Feb. 26, Mercury reaches greatest eastern elongation, and will be at its highest point above the horizon, low in the western sky right after sunset.
Q: Just what is a super blood moon anyway? — D.H., Canton
A: The terms "supermoon" and "micromoon" are recent, and do not stem from science. Supermoon was first used somewhat ambiguously by an astrologer in 1979.
In scientific lingo, it is much more useful to look at the apparent size of the moon with the terms "apogee" (meaning the farthest in the moon’s orbit) and "perigee" (the closest) in mind. A perigean moon appears about 12 to 14 percent larger than the moon at apogee, and 5 to 7 percent larger than an average full moon. In actuality, if a moon at perigee appeared in the northern sky at the same time a moon at apogee appeared in the southern sky, most observers would find it impossible to distinguish the difference.
As for "blood moon," it first gained popularity in a 2013 book in which two Christian pastors popularized the term, incongruously conflating lunar eclipses with the apocalypse. The lunar eclipses came and went, the apocalypse did not occur, the world didn’t end, but we did gain a useless and confusing term: "blood moon." When the moon appears reddish during an eclipse, it is simply due to the Earth’s atmosphere bending red sunlight into our planet's shadow, the same reason sunrises and sunsets also appear red.
And "wolf moon" is a Native American term for a midwinter full moon. What we observed last weekend could more accurately be described as a "perigean midwinter full moon."
The periodically updated "The Universe at Large" is presented at 1 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays at the Hoover-Price Planetarium. It is included with admission to the William McKinley Presidential Library & Museum at 800 McKinley Monument Drive in Canton. Children must be 5 or older to attend.
The planetarium also offers an astronomy program for adults only on the first Monday of every month at 1 p.m., with a show followed by a 45-minute open lecture/discussion.
For more information, visit the planetarium’s blog on mckinleymuseum.org or call 330-455-7043.
David L. Richards is director of the Hoover-Price Planetarium in Canton. He can be reached at 330-455-7043 or email@example.com.