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Rolling clouds

Photo of the Week. Clouds roll beneath a vivid blue sky.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, May 14, 2010.

Having gone through new on Thursday, May 13, the Moon waxes this week in its crescent phase, finally reaching first quarter the night of Thursday the 20th, when it is close to the celestial meridian to the south, allowing you to see the quarter in near perfection. While the first sighting of the crescent could be in twilight the evening of Friday the 14th, it will be much easier to see the following evening, that of Saturday the 15th, when the Moon will make a lovely pairing with Venus , which will be up and to the left. Then look the following night to see them switch places, Venus now down and to the right of the silvery crescent. However they are positioned, the sight of the Moon and Venus, the two brightest objects in the sky (aside from the Sun and the occasional meteor ) is always a treat.

The night of Thursday the 20th, the Moon will glide a few degrees southwest of Mars. Look for it next just to the south of Regulus in Leo the night of the first quarter, when it will also be near perigee, its closest point to Earth.

Venus of course now dominates the early evening sky, as it shines brightly to the west-northwest, nicely positioned passing between the horns of Taurus. While setting later each evening, now about 10:30 PM Daylight Time, the end of twilight is getting later each night as well and keeping good relative pace with the bright planet, Venus still setting only about an hour after the sky is truly dark.

In early evening set high in the southwest, Mars does better. The red planet, now in western Leo just to the west of Leo's Sickle and Regulus, does not set until 2 AM. Watch over the next three months as Mars slowly gains on Saturn , which still resides in far western Virgo rather well to the west of Spica, Mars, Regulus, Saturn, and Spica all in a nice row. The two planets will come into conjunction August 28. Saturn finally sets around 3:30 AM just before dawn begins to light the sky and about the time Jupiter rises, the giant planet making a nice sight in eastern twilight.

With spring well advanced, the winter stars have pretty much disappeared, and those of summer are coming in. Nearly gone are Taurus and Gemini, replaced by Leo and Virgo, Leo to the east of bright Mars, which has just left Cancer and the Beehive cluster behind. Above them all glides the Big Dipper of Ursa Major.
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