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Photo of the Week. White on blue.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, May 25, 2012.

Our Moon begins our week in a fat crescent phase as it approaches its first quarter on Monday, May 28. North Americans will see it rising in the afternoon daytime sky. In the following days, it will then grow into the waxing gibbous phase, full Moon not achieved until rather well into next week, when it will undergo an eclipse seen throughout most of the Pacific basin and western and central US and Canada. On the morning of Tuesday the 29th, the Moon will pass seven degrees to the south of Mars (the wide angle due largely to lunar orbital tilt). On the previous evening (Monday the 28th), the lunar disk will be a bit to the southwest of the planet. Then on the night of Thursday the 31st, we will find the Moon gliding about the same angle to the south of Saturn. Since Saturn is north (and a bit east) of Spica, the three (going north, the Moon, Spica, Saturn) will lie in a nice row, the Moon rather close to the star, making it a bit difficult to see.

Venus, which has been gloriously with us during the whole of 2012 (and for some time before), is now effectively gone, at the beginning of our week already setting in late twilight. It is preparing to sweep across the face of the Sun in a rare transit that for North Americans will start late in the afternoon on Tuesday, June 5, at 5:05 PM CDT, and for the contiguous US and most of Canada will run until sunset. Optical aid is needed, and since the Sun is so bright, so is a professionally-made filter. Projection of the image works well too.

This week, it is Mercury's turn, as the planet goes through superior conjunction with the Sun on Sunday the 27th, the planet in back of the Sun, the event, such as it is, quit invisible. It will thereafter pop up in the early evening sky. The night then belongs to Mars and Saturn, the two nicely visible at the same time. The western one of the two, Mars is now moving easterly to the south of the eastern hindquarters of classical Leo well to the southeast of Regulus heading for Virgo (and in mid-August for Saturn). Well into the western sky at dusk, the red planet now sets around 2 AM. Transiting the meridian in late twilight, Saturn follows Mars to the horizon by about an hour and a half. Regulus, Mars, Spica and Saturn make for a fine evening's viewing.

If you are far enough south (meaning here mostly Hawaii), this is the season for Crux, the Southern Cross. However, northerners can still admire some of the bright stars of Centaurus (the Centaur) that more or less wrap around the Cross to the north. Just get a clear horizon and look well to the south of Spica past the dim tail of Hydra, the Water Serpent.
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