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Sunset clouds

Photo of the Week. Peaceful sunset.

Astronomy news for the two weeks starting Friday, July 29, 2016.

The next skylights will appear August 12.

We begin with a wisp of a waning crescent Moon, which terminates at new Moon on Tuesday, August 2. Your last view of it will be in eastern twilight the morning of Monday the 1st. We then turn in the other direction to see the waxing crescent, which will appear the twilit evening of Thursday the 4th immediately to the left of Mercury, with Venus a bit farther down and much farther to the right, the bright planet hard to see. The following evening, that of Wednesday the 5th, will be better, with the Moon just to the west of Jupiter. The Moon will occult, or cover, the planet after the two have set. Look then the next evening to see the Moon well up and to the left of the giant planet. After passing first quarter on Wednesday the 10th, it enters the waxing gibbous phase as it heads towards full on August 18. The evening of Thursday the 11th, the Moon will appear directly above Mars, while to the right Saturn will be just above the star Antares, the four making a nifty quadrangle. The Moon passes apogee, where it is farthest from Earth, on Tuesday the 9th, less than a day before first quarter.

After giving us a lovely show over the past few months, Jupiter is disappearing from the nighttime sky, now setting before evening twilight draws to a close. It'll be back in the east in October. And as augured above, Mercury is making a bit of an appearance in western twilight. So is Venus. Climbing only slowly from night to night, Venus does not get into a dark sky until mid-October. But we still have Mars and Venus. With Mars moving to the east against the stellar background, and Saturn (just to the east and north of Mars) very slowly still moving
retrograde (to the west), the two are on course to pass each other. But before then the chase will be on, as Saturn ceases retrograde about as our fortnight ends,and slowly reverses to move easterly in direct mode. But it's no match for speedy Mars, which will catch it on August 25. All this action plays out against the bright stars of Scorpius, in particular Antares, which is almost due south of the ringed planet. Mars is to the west of bright second magnitude Delta Scorpii (the middle star in the trio that makes the Scorpion's head) and will pass just south of it on Tuesday the 9th. Not to be completely outdone, Uranus ceases retrograde on Friday, July 29.

The best, however, is yet to come. August is the time for the
Perseid meteor shower, which appears to emanate from the constellation Perseus. While lasting over several nights, the meteor display (from the debris of Comet Swift-Tuttle, which last came by in 1992) peaks the morning of Friday the 12th with the Moon well out of the way. The shower is predicted to be better than the normal average of a meteor per minute in a dark sky.

It's a good time to look at the Dippers. In early evening the
Big Dipper of Ursa Major falls into the northwest while the Little Dipper of Ursa Minor stands on its handle, Kochab (Beta Ursae Minoris) above Polaris. Between the Dippers wags the tail of Draco the Dragon, while halfway between Kochab and the Big Dipper's end find Thuban, which (as a result of precession, the 26,000-year wobble of the Earth's axis) was the pole star during the time of ancient Egypt.
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