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Red Moon

Photo of the Week.. A three day old waxing crescent Moon, reddened from forest fire smoke, sets over the lights of town.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, August 3, 2012.

The Moon goes through its last quarter this week during the day on Thursday, August 9, just about the time of Moonset in North America. It will therefore rise the night of Wednesday the 8th just shy of the quarter, while on the night of the 9th it will rise just past the quarter, the difference only barely noticeable. The early part of the week sees the Moon in its waning gibbous phase. There are no encounters with bright planets. The best we can do, and it's not much, is a passage well to the north of Neptune on Friday the 3rd, then one north of Uranus three days later. Rather similar to each other, both with about four times the Earth's diameter and 16 or so times the mass, closer Uranus (now in western Pisces to the northeast of the Vernal Equinox) is slowly moving away from Neptune, which lies in Aquarius to the east of its boundary with Capricornus. On the morning of Friday the 10th, the Moon goes through its apogee, where it is farthest from Earth.

The planetary parings continue, the one in the evening growing stronger, that in the morning falling apart. In the early evening, Mars, Saturn, and Spica make a fine close triangle with the red planet at the western apex and Saturn just to the north of the star. Gaining rapidly on Saturn, Mars will pass between the other two next week rather like a football through the goal posts. It will be fun to watch. The pretty configuration sets by 10:30 PM Daylight Time. In the morning sky, Jupiter is leaving Venus behind, the giant planet rising just after local midnight (1 AM Daylight) in Taurus to the left of the Hyades, while the second planet from the Sun does not climb out of bed until after 2:30 AM, though well in advance of twilight. Nevertheless, they still make a riveting duo as they proceed across the morning sky until twilight takes them away.

In mid-evening look for the Big Dipper as it falls into the northwestern sky. Following along behind it to the north of overhead, find the squarish head of Draco, the celestial Dragon, which can rather easily be found just to the northwest of Vega, the brightest star in the neighborhood and just barely third brightest in the northern hemisphere.
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