Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, June 4, 1999.

Skylights now continues weekly; thanks for your patience. The Moon wanes through its gibbous phase the early part of the week, passing through third quarter the night of Sunday, June 6, around the time of moonrise. We begin the week on Friday, June 4, with the Moon passing over, or occulting, Uranus, the event not visible here. But the morning of Thursday, June 10, the waning crescent will easily be found in twilight to the southeast of Jupiter, which is now making a nice appearance in the early dawn sky. The contrast of the bright planet with the thin lunar crescent framing its earthlit night-time side will make a fine good morning for early risers.

White Venus, impossible to miss, grows yet brighter and higher in the evening sky, while bright reddish Mars, now prominent in the southeastern evening sky, has been moving slowly toward it. Mars is now very close to, and just to the northeast of, the first magnitude star Spica in Virgo, the two rather mimicking Castor and Pollux in Gemini, which are now far to the west in twilight. On Saturday, the 5th, Mars ceases its retrograde (westerly) motion against the background stars and begins once again its normal easterly movement, which will move it away from Spica and also prevent it from becoming much closer to Venus. As it picks up speed its motion relative to Spica will become very obvious.

The Big Dipper is now high in the evening sky, almost overhead and for most of us a bit to the north. Ride a line due south of the Dipper's handle. Along it you will encounter: the modern constellation Canes Venatici, the Hunting Dogs (mostly made of a pair of stars parallel to the Dipper's handle); a modern constellation with ancient roots, Coma Berenices, Berenices Hair, a wonderful lacy spray of faint stars that is a physical cluster; Virgo, the Virgin, with its luminary Spica, just to the east of the lopsided box that makes Corvus the Crow; directly below Spica the tail of Hydra the Water Serpent, the longest constellation in the sky; farther down (just above the horizon for most northerners) a few modestly bright stars that make northern Centaurus, the Centaur (from more southern regions, the great globular cluster Omega Centauri appears as a fuzzy blob); and finally below the horizon for most of the US is the closest star, Alpha Centauri, which follows Crux, the famed Southern Cross across the sky, the set visible in the US only from Hawaii and deep southern Florida and Texas.
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