Photograph by NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

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Colors have been added to this view of Mercury, taken by NASA's MESSENGER orbiter, to emphasize the chemical, mineralogical, and physical differences between the rocks on the planet's surface.

Photograph by NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

5 Sky Events This Week: Moon Looks Bullish, Morning and Evening Stars Shine

As the moon moves next to the red eye of Taurus, Mercury appears at sunrise.

This week, the moon barrels through the celestial bull and winks out a star, while the gods of love and war part ways.

Bullish moon. After darkness sets in on Tuesday, February 24, look for the waxing crescent moon to create a triangular pattern with two bright star clusters, Hyades and Pleiades, in the constellation Taurus, the Bull.

Both stellar groupings are among the closest clusters to Earth. The Pleiades lie some 300 light-years away, while the Hyades are a mere 160 light-years distant.

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The crescent moon poses with the star clusters Hyades and Pleiades in the early evening sky on February 24, as seen in this illustration.

Morning star. Dawn on Wednesday, February 25, will offer sky-watchers in the Southern Hemisphere the best morning binocular views of Mercury for the year.

Rising two hours before the sun, the innermost planet will climb to about 20 degrees above the eastern horizon by about 30 minutes before sunrise.

Though it appears as just a faint dot to the unaided eye, Mercury stands out well against the glare of the rising sun when viewed with binoculars.

Bull's eye. By the evening of Wednesday, February 25, what will then be a quarter moon will have slipped next to the red eye of Taurus.

The star Aldebaran will appear only about a half degree from the moon, making for a stunning portrait whether you choose to photograph it or only gaze upon it.

Of course, while the cosmic duo appears to be close together in our Earthly skies, the moon is actually some 1.27 light-seconds away, while the red giant lies a respectable 66 light-years distant.

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As shown in this illustration, the moon will be parked next to Aldebaran, one of the brightest wintertime stars, on February 25, making for an especially stunning sight in the early evening.

Mars and Venus. After sunset on Friday, February 27, gaze toward the western sky as the ancient gods of love and war slowly part ways.

The two inner planets in the solar system appear to be some 2.7 degrees apart and continue to widen their separation from night to night. Venus, the brighter of the two, will slowly climb higher each night while Mars sinks into the glare of the sunset.

And as an observing challenge for binocular and telescope users, the seventh planet from the sun, Uranus, appears about 5 degrees above Venus.

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Venus and Mars point the way to Uranus at dusk in the southwestern sky on February 27, as illustrated here.

Lunar occultation. Early evening on Saturday, February 28, the waxing gibbous moon will appear to engulf and hide a faint "naked eye" star in the constellation Gemini, the Twins.

According to the Sky and Telescope website, observers in North America "east of the Mississippi and north of the deepest South" will get to see the star Lambda Geminorum appear to magically wink out as it goes behind the dark limb of the gibbous moon. This event can be witnessed in Washington, D.C., at 7:56 p.m. EST; in Chicago at 6:31 p.m. CST; and in Kansas City at 6:21 p.m. CST. (Here is a timetable for other locations.) It can be seen with nothing more than the naked eye, but is best viewed with binoculars.

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In this simulated view, the dark limb of the gibbous moon prepares to eclipse the star Lambda Geminorum on February 28.

Happy hunting!

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