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Sagittarius and Scorpius

Photo of the Week. Sagittarius (left) and Scorpius (right) sprawl across the picture, honoring Jupiter, the bright light at far left to the east of the Little Milk Dipper (as it appeared in March of 2008). The Milky Way runs down from left to right, while Antares shines toward upper right.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, May 16, 2008.

This is the week of the full Moon, the Planting Moon, Milk Moon, Mother's Moon, Flower Moon, which takes place just after mid-month, the night of Monday, May 19, about the time of Moonrise in North America, the full Moon thus rising at Sunset. That the full Moon rising in twilight looks so large is but an optical illusion whose origin is still argued. Illusion or no, it still makes for a beautiful sight. Only 12 hours after full, the Moon goes through apogee, where it is farthest from Earth, thus reducing the so-called " spring tides" that take place when the solar and lunar tides add together (at full and new phases). Earlier in the week we see a fat waxing gibbous, while the remainder of the week is spent in the waning gibbous. Just a day past full (the night of Tuesday the 20th), the Moon makes a close pass to Antares in Scorpius, appearing just to the east of the star by the time they both rise in the southeast.

The early evening sky presents a trio of planets. Though not as good as last week, Mercury is still on display in the west-northwest during twilight. Higher up, find Mars to the left of, and up from, Castor and Pollux in Gemini, the planet itself in Cancer, the next constellation of the Zodiac to the east. Higher still is Saturn, which makes a fine coupling with Regulus in Leo, the planet just a bit to the east of the star, the two slowly pulling apart. Mars then makes something of a transition by setting at local midnight (1 AM Daylight), followed a little over an hour later by Saturn. By that time, however, Jupiter is nicely up in the southeast, the planet rising in Sagittarius at midnight Daylight time to join the evening crowd, a late guest if you will.

This is Big Dipper season, this most famed of asterisms a part of Ursa Major, the Great Bear. Look for the seven-star pattern nearly overhead in early evening. Then look to the second star in from the end of the handle, Mizar, to try to find its dim naked-eye companion Alcor just to the northeast of it. South of the curve of the handle and parallel to it is a pair of stars that make most of the modern constellation Canes Venatici, the Hunting Dogs, while to the south of these lies Coma Berenices, a lacy cluster that needs a dark sky with little Moonlight, which this week does not provide.
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