Astronomy news for the period Monday, May 17, through Thursday, June 3, 1999.

This Skylights will cover the period through Thursday, June 3. Skylights will resume weekly on Friday, June 4. We begin with the Moon just past new, waxing through first quarter the night of Friday, May 21st, at about moonset in North America, then growing to full the night of Saturday, May 29, the phase reached near midnight with the Moon low in the southern sky north of the red supergiant Antares in Scorpius. The Moon passes apogee, its farthest point from the Earth, the night before. The night of Monday, the 17th, the thin crescent (the nighttime side glowing with Earthlight) will be below brilliant Venus, the next night, Tuesday, the 18th, it will be seen to the left. The Moon's "big hit," however, takes place near the quarter the night of Friday, the 21st, when it passes over, or occults, the bright star Regulus in Leo, the event visible throughout North America. The times differ by over an hour from one coast to the other. For the central United States, disappearance takes place behind the dark leading lunar edge about 11:10 PM daylight time, reappearance just after midnight, about 12:10 AM. Binoculars will help make it a fine show, the disappearance of the star startlingly abrupt, showing how terribly small the angular sizes of the stars really are. The night of Tuesday, the 25th, the Moon will appear above reddish Mars and the bright star Spica, and once again, as in the last phase cycle, it will occult Uranus and Neptune (respectively on June 3 and 4), though neither event will be visible in the western hemisphere.

The planets are "busy" during this period. On Friday, the 21st, Jupiter (visible in eastern dawn) passes a milestone, perihelion, the closest point to the Sun on its 12-year orbit, at a distance of 4.950 astronomical units, not that it makes much difference to the naked eye, as Jupiter's orbit is not far from a circle. Uranus begins its westerly retrograde motion the same evening. Then two "invisible" planets get into the act, as Mercury goes through superior conjunction in back of the Sun on Tuesday, the 25th, and Pluto passes solar opposition against the stars of Ophiuchus (north of the ecliptic plane) on Sunday, the 30th. Not to be left behind, brilliant Venus will make a close pass to the bright stars of Gemini, appearing only four degrees south of Pollux, the same night.

As the time of solar passage across the summer solstice approaches, the summer stars are beginning to make their appearances. Look for bright Vega and Deneb climbing the northeastern sky, Scorpius and Sagittarius crossing to the south after midnight, and before the Moon brightens too much, for the Milky Way that streams between and among them all.
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