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Photo of the Week. The 30,000- foot sunset now deepens even more.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, March 11, 2011.

Note: After the beginning of Daylight Savings Time on Sunday, March 16, add an hour to the times given below.

The growing Moon continues going through its paces, starting our week just barely shy of first quarter, that phase properly reached the evening of Saturday, March 12, about the time of sunset in North America with the Moon close to the meridian. Since the Sun is just short of the Vernal Equinox, the early-evening quarter will be high in the sky as it bears down on the Summer Solstice between the classical figures of Taurus and Gemini. Look for orangish Aldebaran to the right of the quarter, Castor and Pollux to the left. The Moon then enters the waxing gibbous phase, which will occupy the rest of the week, full Moon not passed until next Saturday. Watch its descent to the south as it nears the autumnal equinox in Virgo.

Jupiter escapes ever more into evening's light, the giant planet having made the transition to setting shortly AFTER the end of dusk. But while doing so, it also helps make for the week's biggest event as it passes conjunction with Mercury (barring Pluto, the largest and smallest planets getting together), Mercury just two degrees north of the Lord of Planets. The pairing provides a fine way of locating the little one. Look first the evening of Sunday the 13th in fairly bright twilight. Given a good horizon, you will see Mercury just down and to the right of Jupiter. With Mercury coming night-to-night upward and Jupiter going oppositely, over the next three nights watch as the two switch places: by the evening of Wednesday the 16th, Mercury will then be nicely UP and to the right of Jupiter.

Jupiter thereafter more or less disappears, to be replaced by Saturn, which now RISES as evening twilight draws to a close. With us all night, Saturn crosses the meridian to the south (still to the northwest of Spica) around 1:30 AM, and does not set until after sunrise. Look to the west for it and Spica in the hours before dawn. Then there is Venus. Stuck for the last month rising around 4:30 AM, the ever-earlier beginning of morning twilight has finally caught up with it, the rising of the brilliant planet just barely beating it out. No matter, Venus is so bright that you can still find it glowing in the southeast even shortly before sunrise.

While the spring stars, Leo and Virgo included, have made their entries into evening, if you look far enough to the north you can still spot the constellations of late autumn. Look in particular above Orion (itself to the west of the meridian in early evening) to bright Capella in Auriga, thence to the west to spot the star streams of Perseus, the hero of the Andromeda myth.
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