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Skylights featured on
Astronomy Picture of the Day

Clouds and clearing sky

Photo of the Week.Beautiful clouds announce a clearing sky.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, May 10, 2002.

Phone: (217) 333-8789
Prepared by Jim Kaler.

If you like stars, go to STARS: Portraits of Stars and their Constellations, compiled from previous stars of the week. Enjoy photographs of the January 20, 2000 total eclipse of the Moon. Watch planets move against the background stars. See sunsets, rainbows, the Moon and planets, and other sky phenomena in Sunlight.

Skylights is presented a day early this week. And what an amazingly busy week it is! We start not with the Moon, but with Venus, which makes a close pass to Mars the evening of Friday the 10th, the two only a third of a degree apart. Brilliant Venus, however, shining at -4th magnitude, will overwhelm the second magnitude mythical god of war, which will be a bit difficult to see in bright twilight, when Venus is at her highest. Below the pair find Saturn, which is now setting as twilight ends, a bit before Venus and Mars. Well up and easily visible until near midnight is bright Jupiter, which moves slowly easterly against Gemini's stars. And now the Moon gets into the act. It passes its new phase the early morning of Sunday the 12th about the time of sunrise in the Americas. By the night of Monday the 13th it will be just visible low in the west in brighter twilight as it launches a series of passages to the assembly of planets. The night of Monday the 13th, the Moon will be to the left of Mercury, which is getting quite difficult to see. Above and to the left of the slim crescent will be Saturn. The following evening, the night of Tuesday the 14th, the Moon will make a spectacular couple with Venus, shining immediately to the left of the brilliant planet. By that time, Mars will have shifted down and to the right of Venus. By the evening of Wednesday the 15th, the Moon will be taking a bead on Jupiter, appearing rather well down and to the right of the giant planet as the Moon enters the classic figure of Gemini. By the following night, Thursday the 16th, the Moon will have shifted to the other side of Jupiter. In fact Saturn, Mars, and Venus will all be occulted, or covered, by the Moon, though unfortunately the events will not be visible in the Americas. Even the asteroid Vesta gets into the act when the Moon occults it the morning of Wednesday the 15th (the event again not visible in the western hemisphere).

With all this action going on, it is hard to have much appreciation for the morning sky, which contains the two outer large planets Uranus and Neptune. Neptune, in Capricornus and to the west of Uranus, enters retrograde (easterly against the stars) motion on Monday, the 13th. Uranus is making its own passage. Having been seen against the stars of Capricornus for many years, it has just left brother Neptune for the next constellation of the Zodiac, Aquarius. It will enter retrograde in early June.

Though winter is far behind us, Sirius still twinkles madly deep in the early evening southwestern sky. Gemini, holding Jupiter, is well to the west, while Leo (with its bright star Regulus) has shifted westward of the meridian. between the two lies dim Cancer (the Crab) with its lovely Praesepe (Beehive) cluster. Well to the southeast of Leo climbs Virgo with Spica. Between Regulus and Spica lies the autumnal equinox, where we will find the Sun as autumn begins, reminding us of the perpetual cycle of the seasons.

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