Catch it quick

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY BLAINE P. FRIED­LAN­DER JR. Blaine Fried­lan­der can be reached at Postskywatch@gmail.com.

Mars will make a dimly lit farewell near Mer­cury in the next few weeks. It won’t be un­til early sum­mer that it’ll re­turn to our view in the morn­ing sky.

With speed that ri­vals Olympian Usain Bolt, the fleet, in­ner­most planet Mer­cury runs around the sun. Quick! Catch it while you can.

Find Mer­cury lin­ger­ing low to­ward the hori­zon in the ear­lyevening west­ern sky for the next cou­ple of weeks. This fast planet will ap­pear at neg­a­tive first mag­ni­tude, bright enough to see from Washington. Roost in a good spot to get a clean view of the hori­zon.

While Mars may be hard to find (first mag­ni­tude, dim), the Red Planet dances near Mer­cury. On Fri­day, Mer­cury hangs just above Mars. The young, ra­zor­thin sliver of moon joins Mer­cury and Mars the evening of Feb. 11, if you have a clear view of the lower, west­ern sky. By late Fe­bru­ary, the fleet planet falls out of view into the sun’s light.

At dusk now, Jupiter pops out in the evening heavens very high in the south­ern sky. You could say it’s al­most over­head. Spot the gassy gi­ant planet eas­ily at neg­a­tive 2.4 mag­ni­tude (bright), loi­ter­ing be­tween the Hyades and the Pleiades in the con­stel­la­tion Taurus. It now sets around 2:30 a.m. in the Washington skies, and will set around 1:20 a.m. at the end of Fe­bru­ary.

Catch the moon dash across the sky for a close en­counter with Jupiter: On Feb. 14, the young moon — though dis­tant in the sky from Jupiter — be­gins its ap­proach. By the next night, the moon is chub­bier and a lit­tle closer. By Feb. 17, our lu­nar com­pan­ion (mag­ni­tude neg­a­tive 10.2, very bright) em­braces Jupiter in a sort of ce­les­tial snug­gle, and the moon passes this king planet the next night.

Saturn as­cends the east­ern heavens just af­ter mid­night in th­ese early days of Fe­bru­ary, while the zero mag­ni­tude ob­ject is bright enough to see from Washington. In mid­month, the ringed planet rises around 11:40 p.m. By the very end of Fe­bru­ary, find it ris­ing just be­fore 11 p.m.

Farewell, friendly neigh­bor Mars. From our earthly per­spec­tive, the Red Planet takes a long, cos­mic hia­tus from our night sky be­gin­ning in midFe­bru­ary. The planet re­turns to our morn­ing skies in early sum­mer.

Down-to-Earth events:

Feb. 5 — “Frac­tals, ‘Lakes’ on a Moon and Google Maps: Com­par­ing the Sur­face Evo­lu­tion of Saturn’s Moon Ti­tan to Earth,” a lec­ture by as­tronomer Katie Jame­son at the Univer­sity of Mary­land Ob­ser­va­tory open house, Col­lege Park. Weather per­mit­ting, view the heavens through tele­scopes af­ter­ward. 8 p.m. www.astro.umd.edu/openhouse.

Feb. 9 — “Magma and Water Oceans in the Early So­lar Sys­tem,” a lec­ture by Lindy Elkins-Tan­ton of the Carnegie In­sti­tu­tion for Sci­ence at a meet­ing by the Na­tional Cap­i­tal As­tronomers, at the Univer­sity of Mary­land Ob­ser­va­tory, Col­lege Park. 7:30 p.m. www.cap­i­ta­las­tronomers.org.

Feb. 10 — “Four Thou­sand Years of Women in Sci­ence,” a talk by Sethanne Howard, a former as­tronomer at the U.S. Naval Ob­ser­va­tory, at the newly re­fur­bished Ar­ling­ton Plan­e­tar­ium, next to Washington-Lee High School. 1:15 p.m. Adults $5. Mem­bers, kids, se­niors $3. Tick­ets: www.friend­soft­he­p­lan­e­tar­ium.or g.

Feb. 10 — “Ob­serv­able Lu­nar Craters,” a talk by as­tronomer Eric Dou­glass at the North­ern Vir­ginia As­tron­omy Club meet­ing, in the “Show­case Room” at the base of the Re­search Hall Ob­ser­va­tory, Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity, Fairfax. 7 p.m. www.no­vac.com.

Feb. 16 — Learn about African cre­ation myths and how Amer­i­can slaves ran to the North and free­dom on the Un­der­ground Rail­road by fol­low­ing the Drink­ing Gourd. ( We know it to­day as the Big Dip­per.) The pre­sen­ta­tion is at the Mont­gomery Col­lege Plan­e­tar­ium, Takoma Park. 7 p.m. www.mont­gomerycol­lege.edu/De­part­ments/planet.

Feb. 16 — “Venus: 50 Years af­ter Mariner 2,” a lec­ture by geo­physi­cist Bruce Camp­bell, at the Al­bert Ein­stein Plan­e­tar­ium, Na­tional Air and Space Mu­seum on the Mall. 5:15 p.m. Free, but tick­ets re­quired. www.airandspace.si.edu.

Feb. 20 — “Artist Im­pres­sions in As­tron­omy?” a lec­ture by as­tronomer Peter Tueben, at the Univer­sity of Mary­land Ob­ser­va­tory open house, Col­lege Park. Weather per­mit­ting, tele­scope view­ing

af­ter­ward. 8 p.m. www.astro.umd.edu/openhouse.

Feb. 23 — “A Uni­verse of Data: How We Get Sci­ence Out of Space Tele­scopes,” a talk by as­tro­physi­cist Jonathan McDow­ell of the Smith­so­nian Astro­phys­i­cal Ob­ser­va­tory. Lec­ture starts at 5:15 p.m. at the Al­bert Ein­stein Plan­e­tar­ium, Na­tional Air and Space Mu­seum on the Mall. Free, but tick­ets re­quired. www.airandspace.si.edu.

March 2 — “Ro­bots and Hu­mans Unite: A Decade of As­tro­nom­i­cal Dis­cov­ery With Hec­tospec,” a talk by physi­cist Dan Fabri­cant of the Har­vardSmith­so­nian Cen­ter for As­tro­physics. Lec­ture starts at 5:15 p.m. at the Al­bert Ein­stein Plan­e­tar­ium, Na­tional Air and Space Mu­seum on the Mall. Free, but tick­ets re­quired. www.airandspace.si.edu.

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