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Venus and Jupiter

Photo of the Week.Venus and Jupiter grace the evening sky in March of 2012.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, June 13, 2014.

As busy as last week was, this one isn't. The Moon starts off just past full and thus spends most of its time diminishing in the waning gibbous phase, finally reaching third quarter the morning of Thursday, June 19, about the time it sets in North America. The morning of Friday the 20th, you'll see it rise just barely into the waning crescent phase. There are no significant planetary passages unless you want to count the one several degrees north of Neptune the morning of Wednesday the 18th. The night of Saturday the 14th, our orbiting companion passes through perigee, where it is nearest to Earth on its monthly round, just over five percent more closer than average.

Jupiter sets at the end of evening twilight, Venus rises just past the start of dawn, and Mercury passes inferior conjunction with the Sun (on the near side of the Sun) on Thursday the 19th. The little planet will not make a decent appearance until late October. That leaves us with Mars and Saturn, which is hardly bad. As the sky darkens, you'll find Mars in the southwestern sky. Just look for the brightest thing there in early evening, the reddish planet still to the northwest of the star Spica in Virgo. It finally sets in the west around 2 AM Daylight Time. To the east of Mars and Spica, Saturn transits the meridian to the south at the end of twilight just about as Jupiter sets. In central Libra between the stars Zubenelgenubi to the southwest and Zubeneschamali to the northeast, it's fainter than Mars but brighter than Spica. The ringed planet sets just after dawn almost exactly as Venus rises.

Are you ready? Summer begins at 5:51 AM CDT the morning of Saturday the 21st, when the Sun crosses the Summer Solstice in classical Gemini. More about that next week.

It's a wonderful time of the year to admire the star Arcturus, the brightest star of the northern hemisphere and the luminary of the constellation of Bootes, the Herdsman, who follows Ursa Major, the Great Bear, around the North Celestial Pole. Follow the curve of the Big Dipper's handle through Arcturus and the imaginary line will run through Spica, which (as seen above) falls between Mars and Saturn. To the west of Arcturus is the lovely cluster of Coma Berenices (Berenices Hair, honoring an ancient queen), while to the east is the head of Serpens, the giant snake that wraps itself around giant Ophiuchus.

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