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Sun and clouds

Photo of the Week. Passing clouds.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, March 29, 2013.

Having passed its full phase the morning of Wednesday, March 27, our Moon begins the week by fading in its waning gibbous phase as it heads toward third quarter the night of Tuesday, April 2 (or as it rises, the morning of Wednesday the 3rd). It thereafter begins to thin in the waning crescent, new phase not reached until the middle of next week. Look the night of Friday the 29th to see the fat gibbous Moon rising with Saturn directly above (to the northwest of) it. As it orbits along its modestly elliptical path, our companion passes perigee, where it is closest to Earth, on Saturday the 30th.

As has been the case for some time, the planetary sky is ruled by the two outer ancient planets (those known since ancient times), Jupiter and Saturn, the brighter giant of the Solar System still in Taurus north of Aldebaran, the fainter ringed planet in western Libra to the east of Virgo's Spica. Jupiter now sets shortly after midnight Daylight Time, while Saturn rises around 9:30 PM, not long after twilight ends. They thus share the later evening sky more or less opposed for about three hours, after which Saturn glides alone toward its meridian crossing to the south around 3 AM. Of the other planets, Mercury makes a feeble attempt at visibility. Rising near- invisibly in bright morning twilight, the little planet passes greatest western elongation as the month of March comes to a close.

Other than the possibility that Comet Pan-STARRS might be visible near the horizon in northwestern evening twilight, that's about it, so we turn our sight toward the stars and the evening constellations, which with the Moon out of the way, shine at their best. Look high as evening twilight ends for bright Castor and Pollux in Gemini. Below it lies brighter Procyon in Canis Minor, while to the southwest glows Sirius in Canis Major. Below them all, in the deep south, sails Argo (the Ship), only the top of which with its three parts (Puppis the Stern, Carina the Hull, and Vela the Sails) is visible from northern climes. A bit to the southeast of Gemini then find Leo, the Lion, who happily roars of the early days of northern spring.
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