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.
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