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Cloud deck

Photo of the Week.Blue skies always top the clouds.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, July 18, 2014.

The Moon passes through its third quarter the night of Friday, July 18, shortly before Moonrise in North America, and then spends the rest of the week thinning out in the waning crescent phase, new Moon not reached until Saturday the 26th. Early risers that have a clear eastern horizon can see the thin crescent just to the right of Venus the morning of Thursday the 24th.

The two giant planets make the biggest splash. Jupiter, which has been invisible in the solar glare for some time now, finally passes conjunction with the Sun on Thursday the 24th, and thus officially becomes a morning planet. Its rising, though, will not clear dawn until the middle of August. Earlier in the week, on Monday the 21st, Saturn ceases its retrograde, westerly, motion against the background stars, and resumes its normal easterly movement as it heads toward Scorpius. Number two in the Solar System, Saturn has a third the mass of Jupiter, but because of lower gravity puffs out almost as large, rendering it by far the least-dense of the Sun's family. Farther away, Uranus begins retrograde in Pisces on Tuesday the 22nd.

Saturn and Mars dominate the early nighttime sky, Mars to the southwest as evening falls, somewhat dimmer Saturn not far to the east of the red planet, Mars in Virgo now a bit to the east of Spica, Saturn in the next zodiacal constellation over, Libra. Mars sets about midnight Daylight Time, while Saturn goes down an hour later. The morning sky hosts the two inner planets, Venus, which rises as dawn starts to light the sky, then down and to the left of the bright planet, Mercury, which is now past its prime and hard to see.

In late evening, around 11 PM, two outstanding constellations of the Zodiac and Milky Way, Scorpius (to the right) and Sagittarius are crossing the sky to the far south. On the other side of the sky, the Big Dipper falls into the northwest, while the stars of the Summer Triangle (Vega in Lyra, Deneb in Cygnus, Altair in Aquila), climb high in the east.

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