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Photo of the Week.Summer storm departing

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, July 11, 2014.

We start our week quite nicely on Friday, July 11, with the Moon rising just short of its full phase, which is reached the morning of Saturday the 12th about the time of Moonset in North America. Early risers will see it as a glowing globe in the southwest as it pursues its track just north of the ecliptic. Since the Sun has recently passed the Summer Solstice in classical Gemini, the full Moon will fall just to the east of the Winter Solstice in Sagittarius, and be a pretty sight indeed. From there, the Moon wanes in its gibbous phase, which quits at third quarter on Friday the 18th shortly before Moonrise. There are no significant planetary passages unless you want to count those with Neptune on Tuesday, July 15, and Uranus on the morning of Friday the 18th, the Moon over just over a degree north of the distant planet, which orbits twice as far from the Sun as Saturn. The Moon passes perigee , where it is closest to the Earth, the morning of Sunday the 13th.

It's a real treat to have two bright planets so close in the evening sky. Though fading as the Earth pulls away from it, at magnitude zero, Mars still dominates the early southwestern sky. Just look for the brightest starlike object you can see. In rapid direct easterly motion against the background stars, reddish Mars has been closing in on Spica in Virgo, and finally passes just 1.4 degrees north of the blue-white star on Saturday the 12th, the pair making a fine color contrast. Not far to the east, Saturn sits in the pans of Libra, the Scales, to the northeast of Zubenelgenubi, the "Southern Claw" of Scorpius. Mars finally sets shortly after midnight Daylight time, Saturn about an hour later. The morning sky hosts the two inner planets. Venus rises right at the start of dawn, just before 3 AM Daylight Time. Mercury then comes up half an hour later, the little planet reaching greatest elongation to the west of the Sun (by 21 degrees) on Saturday the 12th.

The upside-down Big Dipper is now starting to fall into the northwest. It's the tail and hindquarters of Ursa Major, the Great Bear. The snout is out in front of the Dipper, while south and west of it are three pairs of unrelated stars that represent three of the Bear's feet. The ancient Arabs called the trio "the leaps of the gazelle," which have nothing to do with a bear at all. The population of the sky all depends on local culture and the state of imagination.

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