Astronomy news for the week starting Saturday, May 13, 2000.

The next Skylights will appear at the normal time next Friday, May 19. The sky is quiet, the Moon expanding through its waxing gibbous phase to full, that phase reached the night of Wednesday, the 17th, around the time of midnight. As a result, the not-quite- full Moon will rise just before sunset the night of the 17th and the just-past-full Moon will set just after sunrise the morning of Thursday, the 18th. This being the month before the solar passage of the summer solstice, the full Moon (the "Planting Moon, "Flower Moon") will be low, between the stars of Libra and Scorpius, opposite the high solar location near the Aries-Taurus border.

The ancient planets still hide near the Sun. To the east of the Sun, in the evening sky, Mars is slowly being overtaken by the solar disk, while Mercury draws away, heading for its greatest elongation on June 9. To the west of the Sun, in the morning sky, we see the reverse, as Venus draws closer to the Sun in preparation for its superior conjunction on June 11, while The "big guys," Jupiter and Saturn, both pull away, though neither will be easily visible until June. With the Great Gathering of 2000 now breaking up, note that the dire predictions of doom and destruction were not fulfilled.

Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, and then the asteroids, a conglomeration of small bodies that lie between Mars and Jupiter that might have melded into a real planet had Jupiter's gravity not so disturbed them. Instead, collisions among them now break them into smaller bodies. The largest, Ceres, is only 1000 kilometers across, just 30 percent the size of the Moon. Ceres, which requires large binoculars or a small telescope to see, ceases its backward, or retrograde, motion this week, on Sunday the 14th. While the planets (with the distinct exception of Pluto) all lie close to the same plane and are found near the ecliptic, the asteroids (again because of Jupiter's gravity) scatter well away from it. Ceres is now just barely across the northern border of Virgo and actually within the confines of Coma Berenices some 14 degrees to the north of the ecliptic and just a few degrees due east of Denebola in Leo. Moving southward, Ceres will enter Virgo at the end of Skylight's week. The Moon will pass to the south of the little body on Sunday, the 13th.
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