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Jupiter and the Milky Way

Photo of the Week. Jupiter (lower left) visits the Milky Way in Sagittarius. The planet lies just left of the Little Milk Dipper, with the curve of Scorpius's tail to the far right. The small spatter of stars to the left of Scorpius is the cluster Messier 7. See full resolution.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, June 20, 2008.

Skylights now resumes its normal weekly schedule.

Our single week begins with the Moon now in its waning gibbous phase, which leads it toward third quarter, which will be passed on the morning of Thursday, June 26, about the time the Moon crosses the meridian to the south, making it possible to see the third in near-perfection. Having passed its low point near full phase, the Moon is now gliding up the ecliptic to the north, with third quarter taking place near the Vernal Equinox in western Pisces. On Monday the 23rd, the waning gibbous passes north of Neptune, occulting it from the far northlands, then passes several degrees north of Uranus on Wednesday the 25th.

Venus invisibly passed conjunction with the Sun. This week yields more of the same, with Uranus beginning retrograde motion the morning of Friday the 27th, thus making it just within this week's period. At mid-sixth magnitude, Uranus is actually visible to the naked eye just south of the Circlet of Pisces, but only from the darkest of skies and certainly not with the Moon out. Distant Pluto then comes into opposition with the Sun on Friday the 20th. Though the high tilt of Pluto's orbit has for some time kept it far north of the ecliptic, it has now at least returned to the Zodiac, and it now resides in far northwestern Sagittarius. With an orbital period of 248 years, it moves on the average but just under 1.5 degrees per year, as opposed to Mars's current motion of some half a degree per DAY.

Speaking of which, the red planet is still nicely visible moving easterly through western Leo, as it closes in on Regulus and Saturn just a bit to the east of it, the trio to make a fine sight, if they are not doing so already. Mars now sets around 11:30 PM Daylight Time, just half an hour before Saturn (just to the east of Regulus) goes down. Well before they both set, Jupiter, rising in mid-twilight around 9:30 PM, is well up, the giant planet now crossing the meridian low to the south around 2 AM Daylight.

Saving the best for near-last, it's Earth, though, that makes the news, with the Sun passing the Summer Solstice at the Gemini-Taurus border at 6:59 PM Central Daylight Time (7:59 Eastern, 4:59 Pacific) with the Sun still up in the west in most of North America, allowing you to enjoy the formal beginning of northern summer (without of course directly looking at the Sun).

Summer in a sense also begins Milky Way season for northerners. By true local midnight (1 AM Daylight), the Winter Solstice in Sagittarius (opposite the Summer Solstice) crosses the meridian, allowing the glorious Milky Way in Sagittarius and Scorpius to shine forth low in the southern skies.
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