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Escaping the Sun’s Grasp

Sometimes we can’t see the things right before our eyes

By week’s end, the moon is lost amid the glare of the sun, with new moon at 3:46 Friday afternoon. While you might say that the moon has disappeared behind the sun, it has in truth disappeared in front of the sun. As our natural satellite, the moon’s orbit around earth never carries it opposite the sun. Rather, the new moon is there before our eyes, as close as ever. But as it hovers in broad daylight directly between Earth and the sun, we are blind to it.
    By sunset Saturday, at 6:02, the moon has slipped ever so slightly from the sun’s grip, appearing ever so briefly above the western horizon. You may need binoculars but you’ll definitely need a clear view of the horizon and no cloud-cover if you’re hoping to spot this 26-hour-old crescent in the glare of twilight. Once you have, look for the steady glow of Jupiter just a few degrees higher. For a real challenge, look for Mercury at the very edge of the horizon.
    Sunday, the waxing moon is much easier to spot, shining low in the west for 90 minutes after sunset. A sure sign that spring is just around the corner, the waxing crescent moon this time of year appears Cheshire Cat-like, smiling above the horizon. And you’ll be smiling, too, with brilliant Jupiter shining less than a half-dozen degrees to the left of this moon.
    This is the final showing of Jupiter in our evening skies. And unlike the new moon, Jupiter will disappear behind the sun. With Earth’s faster, inside-track orbit, we have left behind Jupiter, which is about to turn the corner, aligning opposite us and behind the sun. And while the moon re-emerges from the sun’s glare in a matter of hours, it will take Jupiter six weeks before it breaks this alignment enough to escape the sun and reappear in our pre-dawn skies.
    Venus greets early birds up before the sun, rising around 6:30 this week. This morning star rises around 5am and blazes in the southeast by dawn.