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It's prime time to marvel at the moon

Get a look at the moon's glories, interplanetary vistas and other outer-space highlights from February 2013.



Anytime is a great time to gaze at the moon, but if you keep a close watch on Thursday night, you might actually see the moon move in its orbit.

The moon passes through the sky from east to west every night, of course, but its orbital motion takes it from west to east against the background stars.

You can notice that change from night to night, as the moon progresses from its new phase to the full moon. Thursday's night sky, however, provides a way to track the west-to-east movement during a shorter time frame: Starting at around 9:30 p.m. local time, the moon will creep past the bright star Spica in the constellation Virgo. Look closely, and you can watch the moon creep.

Space.com's Joe Rao provides all the details about the encounter between the moon and Spica.

Even if you miss the Spica spectacular, there will be plenty of opportunities for moongazing ahead. Earlier this week, folks in chilly northern regions snapped some great pictures of moon halos, which are caused by ice crystals high up in the atmosphere.

"The angled faces of the six-sided crystals bend moonlight into circles 22 degrees in radius. ... Generally, the brighter the moon, the better the halo," SpaceWeather.com explains.

We're featuring Norwegian photographer Steve Nilsen's spotlight shot of a moon halo in our Month in Space Pictures slideshow, and I'm also passing along Sebastien Saarloos' moon-halo picture from Alaska's Lower Miller Creek.

For more marvelous pictures of the moon and Alaska's northern lights, check out Saarloos' Facebook page.

Sebastian Saarloos

Moonlight illuminates the scene at Lower Miller Creek in Alaska on Jan. 17. Ice crystals in the atmosphere refract the light to create a shining halo.


Alan Boyle is NBCNews.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. To keep up with Cosmic Log as well as NBCNews.com's other stories about science and space, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, delivered to your email in-box every weekday. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.