Photograph by NASA, JPL-Caltech
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Skywatchers will get a chance to see Jupiter paired with the moon in this week’s night sky. Here, an artist’s rendering show’s NASA’s Juno orbiter, which will arrive at Jupiter on July 4.

Photograph by NASA, JPL-Caltech

This Week’s Night Sky: Moon Dances With Neighboring Worlds

Look up this week to catch five planets aligned and some pretty pairings with the moon.

Moon and Leo's Heart.  After darkness falls on Monday, January 25, look for the moon to be parked just below Regulus, the brightest star in Leo, the lion constellation.

Representing the heart of Leo, Regulus is 79 light-years away and is about 3.5 times larger than our sun. The blue-white stellar giant is just a young teenager in star terms, at only 300 million years old. (Our own sun is about 4.5 billion years old.)

Last week’s full moon becomes a waning gibbous moon this week, meaning it will gradually appear smaller and less lit.

Moon and Jupiter.  By Wednesday, look for the moon to have slid to the southeastern sky next to the brilliant planet Jupiter.  

The gas giant Jupiter, shining with a golden hue, and the silver orb of the moon create an eye-catching duo near midnight. The pair will dominate the overnight hours as they travel across the high southern sky. Especially impressive is that the pair will be only three degrees apart—equal to the width of your three middle fingers held at arm’s length.

It’s interesting to note while gazing at Jupiter that NASA’s Juno spacecraft is currently sailing towards the planet and has just set a new record for the most distant solar-powered space probe ever flown.

(WATCH: A National Geographic video shows how Juno used Earth to “slingshot” itself toward Jupiter.)

After almost a five-year journey, on January 13 the probe reached this historic milestone as it passed a point 493 million miles (793 million kilometers) from the sun.

Juno is set to enter orbit around Jupiter later this year, on July 4.

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Monday night and into Tuesday morning, the moon appears close to the bright star Regulus, the heart of Leo, the lion constellation. Regulus also forms the base of the Giant Sickle asterism that forms the head and mane of the celestial feline. 

Moon and Mars.  An even closer encounter between the moon and the red planet is in store in the early morning hours of Monday, February 1. The last quarter moon, when Earth’s natural satellite appears half-illuminated during its month-long cycle of phases, will be parked next to bright orange-colored Mars in the low southeastern sky in the hours before dawn. The cosmic pair will be only two degrees apart, so close that you could nearly cover them with just your thumb.  

Five Planets. Wait until twilight and soak in the entire planet parade, a line-up of five planets: Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter that’s visible all week.

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The moon joins Mars in a stunning pairing visible in the southeast skies, along with a line-up of fellow planets that will be visible with the naked eye.  

The planets are aligning for the first time in over a decade, and all five will be visible without binoculars or telescopes. They’ll look like bright stars in the morning twilight—a stunning way to start your week.

Clear skies!

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