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Snow and sky

Photo of the Week. Snow and sky..

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, June 11, 2010.

Our week and our Moon start fresh nearly together, the Moon going through its new phase the morning of Saturday, June 12, about the time of Sunrise, and quite invisible. The rest of the week is then spent watching the growth of the waxing crescent, as first quarter does not take place until the night of Friday the 18th. Your first glimpse of it might be just above the horizon the twilit evening of Sunday the 13th.

The week will produce fine lunar passages of the two planets that bracket the Earth. Look first the early evening of Monday the 14th to see the Moon four degrees to the south of Venus, the two tag- teaming with Gemini's Castor and Pollux, which will lie to the right. At that point the Moon will also be very close to perigee, its least distance from Earth (not that anyone will notice the small difference). Then look the night of Thursday the 17th, when the Moon will glide several degrees southeast of Mars, both of them to the east of Regulus in Leo.

Venus of course now rules the early evening. The evening of Friday the 11th, a line through Castor and Pollux will point leftward right at it. The planet now makes something of a transition, as it sets as late (11 PM Daylight) as it is going to do in this round of visibility even though it has a couple months left to go until greatest eastern elongation. It's now near its best visibility for the season relative to the end of twilight.

While still setting ever earlier, Mars's eastward drift keeps it nicely afloat in the early evening. Having moved to the east of Regulus in Leo, the red planet still does not set until just after midnight Daylight Time. Somewhat to the east find Saturn in western Virgo just to the northwest of the Autumnal Equinox, the ringed planet setting about an hour after Mars goes down.

But take heart, since as Saturn sets, Jupiter rises, the pair keeping very close "reverse track" with each other over most of the year. Dominating the morning sky, the giant planet can be found among the dim stars of Pisces to the southeast of the "Circlet" and just to the east of the VERNAL equinox.

It's now prime season for Arcturus and Spica, the luminaries of Bootes, the Herdsman, and Virgo, the Maiden. Just follow the curve of the Big Dipper's handle to the south for one, then the other. But directions are hardly needed to find orange Arcturus, the brightest star of the northern hemisphere, which flies high around 10 PM. To the south and a bit west lies blue Spica. Farther down find the tail of Hydra, the Water Serpent, and farther down yet, near the horizon the stars of northern Centaurus, the fabled Centaur.
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