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Photo of the Week.Summer storm.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, July 4, 2014.

Happy Fourth of July. And we have fireworks (of a sort) in the Star of the Week, 5 Serpentis.

But first enjoy the peacefulness of the orbiting Moon. The night of Friday, July 11, sees the Moon in the last of its waxing crescent phase, as first quarter is passed on Saturday the 5th. The Moon then brightens through the waxing gibbous phase, which ends at full Moon the morning of Saturday the 12th about the time of Moonset in North America. Though the waxing Moon washes out the stars it's always a pleasure to watch.

In celebration of the week, we get to see two marvelous planetary pairings. The night of the Fourth, the Moon will be to the west of Mars, while the following evening, that of Saturday the 5th, the quarter Moon will brush just barely to the south of the red planet with Spica a bit to the east, the three presenting a fine sight. The night of Sunday the 6th, the growing Moon will be between Mars and Saturn, and then the night of Monday the 7th remarkably does the same thing with Saturn as it did earlier with Mars. The evening of Tuesday the 8th finds our companion making a flat triangle with Saturn to the west and Antares of Scorpius to the southeast.

From the above, the evening sky obviously holds two of the naked- eye planets. (While Uranus is technically visible to the unaided eye, it's tough to find. It was discovered telescopically by William Herschel in 1781.) Both Mars and Saturn are in the southwest as evening falls. The westerly of the two, Mars, which sets just before local midnight, is just northwest of Spica in Virgo and will pass due north of the star on July 12. Saturn closely maintains its place in Libra a bit to the northeast of Zubenelgenubi and sets a little over an hour later. The morning sky holds the two inner planets. Venus rises in the northwest at the first glimmer of dawn, while Mercury does not come close to making it out of bright twilight and is at best hard to spot below Venus.

For those in mid-temperate northern latitudes, Scorpius, the Scorpion, lurks in late evening just above the southern horizon with the red supergiant Antares at its heart. Immediately above it are the scattered stars of Ophiuchus, who is enwrapped with Serpens, and on top of these Hercules with its distinctive "Keystone." The stack is topped by the head of Draco, the celestial dragon, which passes nearly overhead.

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