Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, January 5, 2001.

Welcome not to the turn of the odometer (to 2000), but to the turn of the Millennium itself, not to mention the 21st Century and the New Year, 2001. We begin with the Moon heading toward its full phase, reached on Tuesday the 9th. Having just had a solar eclipse last Christmas Day, we get a lunar eclipse this full Moon (if conditions are right for a solar eclipse, a lunar eclipse will commonly precede or follow). This one will be total and a beauty, but for Europe, Asia, and Africa, not for the Americas. This full Moon will be the second highest of the year, shining from amidst the stars of Gemini. The highest will occur next December, when the Moon will also be eclipsed, bookending the year. (That eclipse will not be visible in the Americas either, no loss, since it will be a penumbral partial-shadow eclipse, which is essentially a non- event). Lunar perigee takes place only a day after full (Wednesday, the 10th), the combination of full, near-perigee, and near-perihelion (for Earth) producing exceptionally high ocean tides.

While approaching full, the Moon will make beautiful configurations with the two giant planets, Saturn and Jupiter, which are both still in retrograde against the stars of Taurus. The night of Friday, the 5th, the waxing gibbous Moon will pass just beneath Saturn, while the following night it will be down and to the left of Jupiter, at the same time just above Taurus's brightest star, first magnitude Aldebaran, all this action taking place above the sky's brightest constellation, great Orion. One can hardly ignore Venus, however, shining brilliantly in the southwest at sundown. If you stay up after midnight, also note Mars, which now rises around 2 AM and continues to brighten among the stars of Libra.

Directly north of Jupiter and Saturn, find the hero of the Andromeda myth, Perseus, which passes roughly overhead in mid- northern latitudes and contains a bright portion of the Milky Way. The constellation is especially known for naked-eye clusters. The most famed, the Double Cluster, lies to the northwest of the bright string of stars that make the most prominent part of the constellation. Just barely visible without optical power, it is a marvelous sight in a small telescope. Hardly recognizable as a cluster is central Perseus itself, making Perseus one of the constellations that are not made just of random stars, but of those that are at least in part physically associated. Much the same is true for Orion. Though not a cluster bound by gravity, many of the stars are in loose association, their births connected in both time and space. Look in particular for the famed "belt," the Arabs "string of pearls," which nearly straddles the celestial equator and lies above the most famed of all interstellar gas clouds, the Orion Nebula.
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