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Photo of the Week.Blue sky above, blue sky below.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, June 6, 2014.

Having passed its third quarter last Thursday, June 19, the Moon is already in the waning crescent phase, slimming down and rising ever later until it goes through new Moon next Friday the 27th. Given a clear eastern horizon, our last look at it will be the morning of Wednesday the 25th. The morning of Monday the 23rd finds the Moon approaching Venus, while on the next morning the two will make a classic combination with the Moon just south of the bright planet. With the pair rising shortly after 3:30 AM Daylight Time as dawn begins to light the sky, there is but a short interval in which to see them before late twilight takes them away. If you catch the sight just right you might also see the wispy Pleiades of Taurus just above the pair.

With Jupiter setting in western evening twilight and pretty much out of the scene, and Venus not rising until dawn lights the east, the planetary sky pretty much belongs to Mars and Saturn, the two occupying adjacent constellations of the Zodiac. Mars is in Virgo still to the northwest of Spica, while the ringed planet is in Libra well to the east of Mars. Going from west to east, Mars (the brightest thing up there), Spica, Saturn, and then Antares in Scorpius, more or less outline the ecliptic, the apparent path of the Sun (though Antares is nearly five degrees south of it). With Saturn transiting the meridian in late twilight, as final darkness falls both planets are in the western half of the sky. Mars then sets around 1:30 AM Daylight Time, Saturn an hour and a half later.

All of which then brings us to the Sun, which passes the Summer Solstice in classical Gemini (technically just over the modern border in Taurus) at 5:51 AM CDT (6:51 EDT, 4:51 MDT, 3:51 PDT, 1051 hours Greenwich, or Universal, Time on Saturday the 21st, marking the beginning of astronomical summer in the northern hemisphere. At that moment, the Sun is as far north as it can get (23.4 degrees north of the celestial equator), and rises as far to the northeast and sets as far to the northwest as possible. Saturday the 21st, the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, follows the shortest night. Solar heating is maximized in northern climes. Welcome to summer.

Below and a bit west of Mars find the rough box that makes Corvus, the Crow, whose top two stars point easterly toward Spica. Below Saturn and Libra (to the southwest of Antares) howls Lupus, the Wolf. In the early evening, the Big Dipper starts to fall into the northwest, while the Little Dipper climbs high above Polaris

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