Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, July 20, 2001.

The week begins with the Moon in its new phase, from which it will begin to wax through crescent toward its first quarter, that phase to be reached on Friday, the 27th. Enjoy the sight as the partially-lit lunar disk climbs nightly from above the evening horizon, the crescent outlined to the east with earthlight. You might make the first sighting the night of Saturday, the 21st. By the following night, the crescent will become easily visible. Almost exactly a day after new Moon, the Moon passes its apogee point, where it is closest the to Earth.

Mars, moving ever-so-slowly eastward against the stellar background stands almost exactly on the formal border between Scorpius (to the west) and Ophiuchus (to the east). Almost directly east of first magnitude Antares in Scorpius and almost due south of second magnitude Sabik in Ophiuchus, and quickly picking up angular speed, the red planet will cross into Sagittarius on September 1. Very near its southerly limit of 27 degrees south of the equator, Mars is currently invisible from the Arctic, indeed north of 63 degrees north latitude. Venus, on the other hand, shining in brilliant splendor in morning skies to the east of the Hyades star cluster in Taurus, is quite far north, and is not now visible over most of Antarctica. Saturn, having just passed conjunction with Venus, now stands slightly to the west of her and even closer to the Hyades. Look down and to the left of Venus to find Jupiter, which has just crossed over into Gemini and rises about as morning twilight begins. Jupiter, nearly opposite Mars, is about as far north as it will become, 23 degrees north of the equator.

Mars in the evening; Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter in the morning; at midnight a full view of the constellations of northern summer. Vega, in Lyra, shines nearly overhead from mid-northern latitudes. With Deneb, a bit to the east, and Altair to the south, it forms the Summer Triangle. Low to the south, below the celestial equator, is the "Teapot" of Sagittarius. Having crossed the meridian to the south about 10 PM daylight time, at midnight Mars stands in the southwest rather than in the southeast.

Overflowing constellation boundaries, the Milky Way cascades through Cygnus southward into Sagittarius and then into the glorious deep southern hemisphere not visible from northern climes. Consisting of the combined light of billions of faint stars, the Milky Way is the disk of our flattened Galaxy. Some 26,000 light years away, in the heart of the black blotches seen against the Milky Way's background, lies the center of the Galaxy, thought to be made of a two and a half million solar mass black hole with gravity so fierce even light cannot escape.
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