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Photo of the Week.Fall really is coming.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, July 25, 2014.

There sure is not much happening: summer doldrums perhaps. We lead off with the new Moon on Saturday, July 26, so our constant companion is not even visible as we open up Skylight's current week. But that has its distinct advantage, as we can then see the stars in all their glory in a dark sky, presuming we can get away from artificial lighting. We do also get to see the Moon wax in its crescent phase during the latter part of our week, as first quarter is not reached until next week, on Sunday, August 3. Your first look at the growing crescent will be in western twilight the evening of Monday the 28th. Be sure to admire the Earthlight, which illuminates the Moon's nighttime side. The only other thing the Moon has going for it is its apogee (farthest from Earth) on Sunday the 27th. The near coincidence with new Moon will weaken tidal amplitudes at the coasts.

Dark skies bring us to the evening's two bright planets, Mars and Saturn, the red planet to the right. Now to the east of Virgo's Spica, nearby Mars is rather quickly shortening the angular separation between it and much more distant Saturn, which in effect is just sitting there in Libra waiting. Mars will pass four degrees north of it on August 26. As Earth pulls away from the red planet, Mars is slowly dimming and is now about the same brightness as Saturn, which is still pretty bright. But to see them, look early, as Mars sets shortly before midnight Daylight Time, Saturn following shortly after midnight. In the morning sky, Venus rises almost exactly at the first break of dawn, about 4 AM, as it ever so slowly slips away.

With the Moon gone, the starry sky comes alight. Perhaps you might spot some meteors from the Delta Aquarid shower, which peaks roughly midweek.

Then as the Big Dipper falls into the northwest, the Little Dipper goes over the top, above Polaris, while Draco curls between the two. To the south of, and parallel to, the Dipper's handle, find the two-star figure of Canes Venatici, the Hunting Dogs (of Charles II), and farther south the lovely apparition of Coma Berenices, a nearby cluster that makes "Berenice's Hair" (that of an ancient Queen). To the right of Polaris rules dim Cepheus, the King and most westerly of the constellations of the Andromeda myth. The rest of the gang, represented best by W-shaped Cassiopeia, will be along shortly, as will be the coolness of fall.
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