Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, August 19, 2001.
During this shortened period, the Moon waxes through its crescent
phase, first quarter reached next Saturday, August 25th. The night
of Wednesday, the 22nd, the Moon will make a nice pass to the north
of the star Spica in Virgo, which is now seen well to the southwest
as twilight draws to a close.
In spite of the growing Moon, the evening still belongs to Mars,
which shines brightly just
to the west of south as the sky darkens. Follow its progress as it
ever-so-slowly (but with increasing speed) pulls to the east of
reddish Antares in Scorpius, the star not very far to the right of
the red planet. Three planets ride the morning sky, the leader
Venus. Moving to the east against the stars of Gemini, the
brilliant planet passes seven degrees to the south of Pollux,
Gemini's brightest star, on Wednesday, the 22nd. To the west of
Venus, find bright Jupiter, and rather well to the west of Jupiter
is Saturn, the two giant planets of course far beyond Venus,
Jupiter almost 5 times farther away, Saturn nearly eight.
The night of Tuesday, the 21st, the Winter Solstice in
Sagittarius will be directly south at 9 PM Daylight Time. The
Solstice, the most southerly point of the ecliptic, marks the
position of the Sun on the first day of northern winter. Just
rising exactly in the east at that time will be the Vernal Equinox,
the point at which the solar path crosses the equator.
Immediately to the left of the equinox, which lies 23.4
degrees south of the celestial equator, is a small fuzzy spot
visible to the naked eye, a large cloud of interstellar gas and
dust, the Lagoon Nebula, or Messier 8. Binoculars will make the
cloud immediately jump from the background. Almost directly north,
and nearly overhead at mid-northern latitudes, lies one of the most
ancient constellations of the sky, Hercules, the celestial memorial
to the great hero, the figure originally known as the "Kneeler."
Toward the northwestern corner lies another fuzzy spot, the
greatest of the northern globular clusters, Messier 13, the "Great
Cluster in Hercules." The telescopic view of the cluster, which
contains somewhere around a million stars, is stunning. To the
west of Hercules is the semi-circle that makes Corona Borealis, the
Northern Crown; its southern hemisphere counterpart, Corona
Australis, the Southern Crown, lies south of Sagittarius. To the
east of Hercules find Lyra, the Harp, brilliantly marked by Vega,
the fifth brightest star in the sky.