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Purple sunrise

Photo of the Week. The first purple light of dawn lights the sky, announcing a new day.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, January 19, 2007.

Climbing out of evening twilight, the Moon is in its waxing crescent phase during nearly all of the week. It does not pass first quarter until Thursday, January 25, about the time the sky darkens with the Moon fairly high to the south. The first view of the growing crescent will be the evening of Saturday the 20th in mid-twilight with the Moon in striking pose with now-obvious and very bright Venus, the Moon just up and to the left of the planet. The lunar disk will actually occult Venus as seen from southern Africa and South America. The night of Sunday the 21st, it also passes Uranus, though the event will be impossible to see. Be sure to admire the Earthlight on the lunar nighttime side.

Jupiter, rising around 4 AM, now quite rules the pre-dawn morning sky. Look for it in the southeast then look to the southwest of the bright planet to find Antares in Scorpius. Further to the east lies much more difficult-to-see Mars, which rises about the time twilight begins. Back in the evening, Venus rules, the planet easily seen even in fairly bright twilight. Now setting just after twilight ends, Venus will make a fine nighttime sight during May and June. In between lies Saturn, which rises about due east (and to the west of Leo's Regulus) about the time Venus sets and twilight ends. From that time on, it is the only ancient planet on view until Jupiter rises, the ringed planet crossing the meridian to the south about 1:30 AM, when it moves into western skies.

January is the prime time to view the grand winter constellations. By 9:30 PM, Orion lies high to the south, the three-star belt, which rides the celestial equator, an instant guide to the mythical Hunter. Up and to the left of the belt is the magnificent red supergiant Betelgeuse, while down and to the right is the blue supergiant Rigel. Below the Belt dangles the three-star Sword, the middle one of which holds the great Orion Nebula, which is easily visible in any kind of binocular. Then follow the Belt down and to the left to the brightest star of the sky and champion twinkler, Sirius in Canis Major. Above and to the right of the Hunter lie Aldebaran, Taurus, and the Pleiades star cluster, while well up and to the left is Gemini, all topped by Auriga with bright Capella. To the east of Betelgeuse find Procyon in Canis Minor, which with Betelgeuse and Sirius helps make the Winter Triangle.
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