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Venus and Jupiter

Photo of the Week.Venus and Jupiter in an ocean of blue.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, July 6, 2012.

We are only a few days past the full phase of the Moon, which now, rising later and later, wanes in its gibbous phase as it heads toward third quarter the night of Tuesday, July 10, shortly before Moonrise in North America. It thereafter wanes as a thinning crescent. There is not much along the way for the Moon to visit other than dim Neptune (the Moon a few degrees to the north) on Saturday the 7th and Uranus (the same) on Tuesday the 10th. The Moon does, however, pass its apogee (when it is a bit over five percent farther from us than average) on Friday the 13th.

The planets perhaps do a more interesting job, with a pair in the morning and another in the evening. The first of these is by far the better, with Jupiter stacked upon brighter Venus, the two rising within about half an hour of each other around 3;30 AM Daylight Time, shortly before the advent of dawn. Look especially the morning of Tuesday the 10th to see Venus pass within a degree of Aldebaran in Taurus with the Hyades just above the two. Climbing yet higher we run directly into Jupiter, with the Pleiades on top of the pile, all in all a remarkable sight for the morning viewer. And Venus is not yet done, as it passes its greatest brilliance for the season, magnitude -4.7, far brighter than any star, on Thursday the 12th. With us the rest of the year, Venus loses little of its luster as time goes by.

In the evening we have the two planets, Mars and Saturn, that have been with us for so long. Mars, nicely between Regulus in Leo and Spica in Virgo, sets around midnight Daylight Time. Saturn, to the north of Spica, goes down about an hour later. There is still plenty of time to admire them both. Moving the faster to the east against the starry background, the red planet is slowly catching up with the ringed one, the two destined for a nice conjunction in mid-August.

The constellations of summer are here! Coming up to the meridian in late evening is Scorpius. Low above the horizon, it is one of the few constellations that look like what it is supposed to be. To the left is Sagittarius with its upside-down Little Milk Dipper, to the north the giant sort-of pentagon that makes Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer, who is entwined by Serpens, (as expected) the Serpent.
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