Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, August 2, 2013.
The Moon fades away
this week in its waning crescent phase,
each morning getting closer and closer to the eastern horizon until
it passes new on Tuesday, August 6. It thereafter shifts itself
past the Sun
to be seen by the evening of Friday the 9th, perhaps even by the
night before, as a waxing crescent. It
passes apogee, where it
is farthest from Earth, on Saturday the 3rd.
The narrowing Moon provides a good way to spot the three morning
planets. The morning of Saturday, August 3, look down and to the
left of the Moon for Jupiter, which will be obvious. The following
morning, that of Sunday the 4th, the thinning crescent will be
near-surrounded, with Jupiter above it, faint Mars up
and to the left of it, bright Mercury down and to the
left. The Moon will be nearly gone by the next morning, leaving
the stack of planets behind. Jupiter rises shortly after 3 AM
Daylight Time, about half an hour before Mars, and an hour before
the beginning of twilight, which Mercury does not escape. Adding
to the show are Gemini's Castor and Pollux, which appear farther to the
Then flip to the other side of the sky and the evening to find
Venus, which sets just before twilight draws to a close and is
making a particularly poor showing this orbital round as a result
of the early evening ecliptic lying rather flat against the
horizon. Every eight years, Venus and Earth occupy
nearly the same orbital positions. In
2005, Venus's evening scene
appeared as it does today; look to see it again in 2021.
Left out is the last of the ancient planets, Saturn. Well into the west
as twilight ends, to the east of Spica, the ringed planet sets around
11:30 PM Daylight Time, so not that much time remains to view it.
By the end of September, Saturn will have left the dark sky and for
a while will be visible only in twilight.
The Moon's departure gives us a fine opportunity to see the
glorious summer Milky Way. From a
dark location, out in the country, you hardly need a guide, as the
billions of stars in the disk of our Galaxy flood the sky in a
broad avenue from north to south, culminating in the great
Sagittarius star clouds near the Galactic center. Not at all uniform, the Milky Way is
filled with dark lanes and patches that are the birthplaces of new stars.
Together, they make the Great
Rift that seems to divide the stream in two.