Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, August 3, 2001.

The Moon passes its full phase the beginning of the week, the night of Friday August 3, just about midnight in the Americas when the Moon is at its highest point in the sky, nestled against the dim stars of Capricornus, which it will quite blot out. A day later, the Moon will pass three degrees south of Uranus and shortly thereafter through its apogee point, where it is farthest from the Earth. The near coincidence between apogee and full phase will make maximum ocean tides, which occur at new and full Moon, especially weak.

Mars, moving westerly against the background of southern Ophiuchus, still dominates the evening sky (as it will for some time), bright Antares closely to the right. With that exception, the planetary sky belongs to the morning hours, where we find brilliant Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn all to the east. Venus rises early, around 3 AM daylight time, well in advance of twilight. Jupiter is now making an equal impact on the morning sky as well, rising about the same time. On the morning of Monday, August 6, Venus and Jupiter will be passing each other, Venus only a bit more than a degree to the south of the Solar System's giant. Look then about 25 degrees to the east to find Saturn. The only one of the ancient planets not accessible is Mercury, which comes into superior conjunction with the Sun (when it is on the other side of the Sun) on Sunday, the 5th.

August begins the slow transition to fall as the Big Dipper starts to fall into the northwestern sky. The Dipper is only a part of the much larger figure of Ursa Major, the Great Bear, whose forepaws are far down the northwesterly sky. As the Dipper drops, look for Cassiopeia and Perseus to begin to climb in the northeast, both locked within the starry stream of the Milky Way. The Little Dipper, on the other hand, is for northerners making its highest appearance of the early evening, almost all of it except for the front bowl stars and the North Star (Polaris) blotted out by bright moonlight.

Full moonlight is so bright about all one can do is to admire the first magnitude stars. An irregular circle of six of them are on early evening display. At the top are white Deneb and Vega, the luminaries of Cygnus and Lyra, seen to the northeast. In the clockwise direction (looking south), go next to orange Arcturus in Bootes, then farther south to Spica in Virgo. Swing around to the far south and there is reddish Antares (near Mars), then back up to white Altair in Aquila. In the middle of the circle are Ophiuchus and Serpens, which will gradually come forward as bright moonlight wanes.
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