Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, June 1, 2001.

The next Skylights will appear Sunday, June 10. The Moon passes through its full phase this week, when it is opposite the Sun, on Tuesday, June 5. It will on that day rise near sunset and set near sunrise. Thereafter, it begins to thin through its waning gibbous phase. The night of June 5 the Moon will appear up and to the right of the planet Mars, while the following night it will have moved to appear up and to the left of the red planet. As we approach the beginning of summer in the northern hemisphere, when the Sun will be as far north as it can get (and as high as it can get for northerners), this full Moon will be the year's second-most southerly, the "Rose Moon" rising in the southeast, setting in the southwest.

The brightest and dimmest planets (as seen from Earth) make the rest of the planetary news. Venus, very slightly dimming, reaches its greatest elongation west, when it is 46 degrees to the west of the Sun. This lovely planet, third only to the Sun and Moon in apparent brightness, now rises in the east just ahead of morning twilight. Even though the angle between it and the Sun now decreases, however, Venus will continue to rise earlier, and until mid-August into ever darker skies. Earliest Venus-rise will occur around mid-July. At the same time, dim Pluto, not visible without a good-sized telescope, is in opposition to the Sun the night of Monday, June 4. When the Moon reaches its full phase, it will lie roughly 10 degrees below the frigid outer planet, which some take not to be a planet at all. In truth, Pluto appears to be some kind of hybrid object that bridges the gap between the outer planets and the building blocks (the comets) that created them. Apparently there was just not enough raw material in these distant reaches of the Solar System to make a respectable planet like Neptune or Uranus.

The early evening presents us with the tail of the longest constellation in the sky, Hydra , the Water Serpent, which wraps itself a third of the way around the celestial sphere. Find Corvus, the Crow, a small irregular box of stars that for northerners appears rather low in the south around 9 PM. The top two stars point leftward to Spica in Virgo, while the bottom two point to otherwise un-named Gamma Hydrae, the next-to-the-last bright star (such as it is) that lies in the celestial snake. Snakes of some sort are quite popular, others being summer's Serpens (the Serpent), which comes in two parts, the southern hemisphere's Hydrus (another water snake), and, if you wish to stretch the definition a bit, the northern hemisphere's Draco, the Dragon, whose tail winds between the Dippers.
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