Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, October 21, 2000.
The sky is busy again this week, beginning with the Moon passing
its third quarter on Monday, the 24th, around sunrise in North
America, the exact quarter nicely visible to the south. On the
mornings of Wednesday, the 26th, and Thursday, the 27th, the waning
crescent will make nice groupings with bright Saturn, Jupiter, and
the star Aldebaran (which will be just below the giant planet).
Wednesday morning, the Moon will be down and to the right of
Saturn, and on Thursday well down and to the left of Jupiter.
Then on Thursday, the 27th, little Mercury comes into greatest
western elongation with the Sun, and will become rather well
visible in morning dawn, with Saturn and Jupiter pointing downward
and to the left of it. If you still can't find it, the Moon will
make a wonderful guide, as it will be just above Mercury next week,
on the morning of Saturday, the 29th.
The two outer large planets, Neptune and Uranus, now separated by
about 15 degrees, are making their annual appearance across the
nightly sky. Neptune, to the west of Uranus, is first to pass
opposition with the Sun, when it is directly opposite the Sun and
at its brightest (but still three times fainter than the naked eye
can see), on Thursday, the 27th.
Comet LINEAR is making a decent appearance. Nothing very
spectacular (nothing like Comet Hale-Bopp), LINEAR is now passing
south of the bowl of the Big Dipper. Binoculars will help.
The waning Moon brings out the stars. The south at 10 PM (for
those in North America) is dominated by a stack of great
constellations. Nearly overhead is the head of Draco the Dragon,
and just to the south is Hercules, which commemorates the great
Greek hero. Though not very bright, Hercules is one of the oldest
constellation figures known, having come to the ancient Greeks as
the mysterious "Kneeler." Below Hercules is another hero,
Ophiuchus. Wrapped in Serpens (the Serpent), Ophiuchus (the
Serpent Bearer) is heroic in that he represents Asclepius, the
physician of the Trojan War. The physician's symbol, the snake-
wrapped staff, is his earthly memorial. Ophiuchus, a huge mis-
shapen pentagon of stars, is again not bright and is rather hard to
find. It is, however, host to numerous celestial sights, including
a plethora of globular clusters (each containing hundreds of
thousands of faint stars). Below him is one the sky's easiest
sights, Scorpius, the Scorpion. It takes no imagination at all to
see how the great curving figure of stars, with Antares at its
heart, received its name, as it looks just like the feared creature
hovering just above the southern landscape. Farther down, and not
visible unless you are rather far south, lies Ara, the Altar.