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Photo of the Week. Patterned clouds.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, May 3, 2013.

The Moon spends most of the week fading away in its waning crescent phase. Your last view of it in dawn's light will be the morning of Wednesday, May 8th. It then crosses the Sun at new Moon the night of Thursday the 9th to produce a solar eclipse. But North Americans need not bother, as the eclipse will be visible only in Australia and the south Pacific. Moreover, with the Moon near its apogee, where it is farthest from Earth (next Monday the 13th), the angular size of the new Moon will be too small to cover the Sun completely. The result is an "annular eclipse" in which at the central moment, the Moon leaves a ring, an "annulus," of sunlight around it. While a pretty sight, an annular eclipse is of little value to solar scientists, as the surrounding solar corona and related effects cannot be seen: the remaining ring of sunlight is just too bright. The only planets that the Moon greets are Neptune and Uranus, respectively on Saturday the 4th and Monday the 6th.

For that matter, few planets are even readily visible. And as Jupiter closes in on the Sun, we get even fewer. Bright and visible to the northwest as twilight dims, Jupiter now sets by 10:30 or so Daylight Time. Venus slowly moves into evening visibility, but still sets in bright twilight, so it will be a while before it becomes easily seen. That leaves us pretty much with Saturn. But that is hardly a bad thing to be left with, as the ringed planet, second largest in the Solar System, is with us practically all night. Having passed opposition to the Sun last week, it is already in the sky by sunset, crosses the meridian to the south half an hour before local midnight (12:30 AM Daylight), and sets in dawn. Find the Big Dipper practically overhead in mid evening. Follow the curve of the handle southward to Arcturus and then to Spica. Saturn, in far western Libra, is some 15 degrees to the east of the star.

It's a week for more meteors, the Eta Aquarids, which peak the morning of Sunday the 5th. These, along with October's Orionids, are the leavings of Halley's Comet. But Aquarius, in the direction from which the meteors seem to come, is so low in the southeast near dawn, that they are only really visible in the far south.

With the Sun now heading for the Summer Solstice in classical Gemini (which because of precession is just over the modern boundary into Taurus), the winter constellations are pretty much gone. So we can now fully celebrate those of spring. In mid evening look again for the Big Dipper high overhead, the much fainter Little Dipper (marked at the end of its handle by Polaris) rising up to meet it. Look directly south of the Big Dipper's handle to find the two-star modern constellation of Canes Venatici, the Hunting Dogs, and then a bit farther down to admire the lacy cluster that makes much of Coma Berenices. Some 283 light years away, the cluster represents the hair of an ancient queen.
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