Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, July 13, 2001.

We begin the week, Friday the 13th, with the Moon in its third quarter, from which it will wane toward new, that phase reached next Friday, the 20th.

The week is highlighted by numerous passages. As the Moon wanes, it will in succession occult, or cover (seen only in specific parts of the world), Saturn, Venus, Jupiter, and Mercury, the first two on Tuesday the 17th, Jupiter a day later, and Mercury a day after that. (Be sure to look in the morning sky on Wednesday, the 18th, to see the Moon approaching Jupiter.) The occultations of Saturn and Jupiter will respectively be seen in South America and in the west Pacific, that of Mercury in northern Europe and the Arctic. The occultation of Venus, however, will be beautifully visible in North America. Unfortunately, the event takes place during daylight, shortly after noon. Fortunately, that matters little to those with a telescope -- even binoculars -- as both the Moon and Venus are visible in the daytime. Just scan the binoculars well to the west of the Sun (avoiding the Sun itself!) until you pick up the Moon, and there will be Venus. Exact times depend on latitude and longitude (and time zone). For Chicago, Venus disappears behind the Moon at 1:16 PM CDT and reappears at 2:28. For New York the times are 2:32 and 3:33, while for San Francisco they are 10:08 and 11:42.

The planets pass through other conjunctions as well. On the morning of Saturday the 15th, brilliant Venus makes an extremely close pass to Saturn, the two (Saturn much the farther away and fainter) only 0.3 degrees apart! At the same time, both are only 3 degrees north of the star Aldebaran in Taurus. (Be sure to admire the Pleiades just above the group.)

Mars, the lone planet in the evening sky, calls for some attention as well. Since last May 11, the red planet has been moving retrograde, or to the west against the background stars. Now well past its opposition with the Sun, and beautifully visible in the early evening to the southeast, Mars stops retrograding on Thursday the 19th. Seemingly stationary for a few days (of course ignoring its daily passage across the sky), it will soon begin an obvious and rapid motion eastward as the Earth slowly pulls away from it.

Directly to the west of Mars is the ever-engaging Scorpius with its bright reddish star Antares. North of Antares lies the sprawling paired constellations of Ophiuchus and Serpens, north of these Hercules. Directly south of Scorpius's curved tail is Ara the Altar, which requires you to be south of roughly 30 degrees north latitude to see much of it at all. South of Scorpius's head and claws (represented by Libra, the Scales), however, is the bright constellation of Lupus the Wolf, the northern part of which is easily visible up to 45 degrees north latitude or even a bit higher.
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