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Gibbous Moon

Photo of the Week. Blue sky waxing gibbous Moon, 2.1 days past the quarter.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, July 26, 2013.

We are certainly into the summer doldrums, with little going on this week except for the Moon running through its paces. It starts the week off late in the waning gibbous phase, then passes third quarter around noon on Monday, July 29, about the time it sets in the west. The quarter will make a nice sight in the early morning hours well to the north of the celestial equator near the border between Pisces and Aries. During the rest of the week it fades as a waning crescent, not passing new until Tuesday of next week, so you have plenty of time to admire it.

While all the bright planets but Saturn hover near the horizon, their visibility is improving. As July turns to August, Venus slowly advances toward the end of evening twilight, but is still difficult to see as it is so low by the time the sky is dark enough to show it. In the morning sky Jupiter is now beating out Mars, rising around 3:30 AM about an hour before twilight commences. Mars follows half an hour later, but is still difficult to see. Mercury, though, makes a morning showing. Though it rises after the beginning of dawn, it's bright and is at its greatest western elongation for the season on Tuesday the 30th. Of them all, Saturn remains the most visible. As the month changes, the three are stacked in southern Gemini to the right of Castor and Pollux, Jupiter on top, Mercury on the bottom. In the west (a dozen or so degrees to the east of Spica) as the sky gets dark, the ringed planet sets just before midnight Daylight Time, leaving us quite planetless (excluding the outer ones) for over four hours until Jupiter heaves itself over the horizon.

As the sky darkens, look for Scorpius above the southern horizon, Sagittarius to the east of it, Lupus to the southwest. If you are far enough south you might spot the fainter stars of Ara the Altar just below the Scorpion's southern curve. Hercules is then practically overhead, with bright Vega to the east, Arcturus to the west. To the east of Vega, find Deneb at the tail of Cygnus the Swan or, tipping the figure upside down, at the top of the Northern Cross. At the head of the Swan, or the foot of the Cross, is the famed colorful orange and blue double star Albireo. To the south of these is Altair in Aquila, the three bright stars making the Summer Triangle. Look in the other direction, to the north of Vega, for the head of Draco, the Dragon, which then twists between the Big and Little Dippers.
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