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thin moon

Photo of the Week.Thin waning crescent just two days from new.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, May 1, 2009.

Happy (as the week begins) May Day. We are halfway to astronomical summer. And we also begin the week with the Moon at its first quarter, seen rising in the afternoon of Friday, May 1. The rest of the week is now the province of the waxing gibbous, which grows until the Moon hits full phase the night of Friday the 8th. Take a look at the Moon as it passes south of Regulus in Leo the night of Saturday the 2nd, then the following evening (Sunday the 3rd), when it will be seen several degrees to the southwest of turn/2009/12/">Saturn, formal conjunction taking place around the time of moonset the following morning.

It's (sound the claxon) "inferior planets week." Having passed greatest eastern elongation (against the Sun) last week, Mercury is briefly nicely visible low in the west-northwest, early in the week not setting until evening twilight glimmers to an end around 9:30 PM Daylight Time. The evening of Saturday the 2nd finds the little planet in a very pretty positioning just to the left of the Pleiades star cluster and well to the right of the Hyades and orange Aldebaran. You will need a clear horizon and at least binoculars.

As Mercury is currently to the evening,"> Venus is to the morning, only vastly more so. While it is not easy to spot the former, the latter quite literally owns the dawn sky, as the planet, rising just after 4 AM, reaches its greatest brilliancy in its 2009 morning foray on Saturday the 2nd. At magnitude -4.7, it is 20 times brighter than the brightest star, Sirius (which now lies well to the southwest as the sky darkens).

In the middle of inferior planet action, we find the two giants of the Solar System, Saturn and Jupiter. Crossing the meridian high to the south around 9:30 PM Daylight, Saturn does not set until 3:30 AM, an hour after Jupiter rises. By the time Venus is up, Jupiter has moved brightly into the southeastern sky. As bright as it is, Venus tops it by a brightness factor of 10.

One of the better meteor showers, the Eta Aquarids (the meteors seeming to radiate from Eta Aquarii), arrives this week, peaking the morning of Tuesday the 6th. Capable of up to 60 meteors an hour, the leavings of Halley's Comet will be pretty much hidden by the bright Moon.

To the far west in early evening lies Taurus, to the east of it Gemini, the most northerly constellation of the Zodiac. Well to the east find the bright of Leo. Between Gemini and Leo lies one of the dimmer zodiacal bulbs, Cancer, the Crab, which really requires that the Moon be well out of the way.
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