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Clearing Moon

Photo of the Week. Clearing clouds reveal the waxing crescent Moon and a lonely star.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, August 22, 2008.

The Moon fades away this week. Beginning in its late waning gibbous phase, it passes third quarter the night of Saturday, August 23, then spends the remainder of our period as a waning crescent, new Moon to be passed on Saturday the 30th. With a clear eastern horizon, you might be able to admire the last glimpse of the narrow crescent the morning of Friday the 29th. Two days after third quarter, on Monday the 25th, the Moon passes perigee, where it is a bit over five percent closer to the Earth than average. As the crescent wanes, look for Earthlight on the nighttime side of the Moon.

The Moon passes no planets this week, in part because so many are ganged together over in western twilight, unfortunately pretty much out of sight. Saturn sets just after sunset, followed by Mercury (which is making a poor western appearance), then Venus and Mars, all going down in twilight. The only one with a hope of being seen is Venus, and only because of its great brilliance. Neptune is up in the east at the end of twilight, followed by Uranus as twilight ends, but these require a knowledge of exactly where to look as well as optical aid.

That leaves us once again with Jupiter, which now dominates the evening sky within the confines of northern Sagittarius. The giant of the Solar System (11 times the diameter of Earth) can now be seen crossing the meridian to the south around 9:30 PM Daylight. You can admire it for several more hours until it sets just after 2 AM, when Uranus transits the meridian and Betelgeuse in Orion rises. Jupiter is in a fine stellar setting a couple degrees due north of the bright star Nunki (Sigma Sagittarii) in the bowl of Sagittarius's Little Milk Dipper.

Several first (and zero) magnitude stars dot the evening sky, the set dominated by the Summer Triangle of Vega in Lyra (nearly overhead in early evening), Deneb in Cygnus (east of Vega), and Altair in Aquila (to the south). To the far northwest find orange Arcturus in Bootes (the brightest star of the northern hemisphere), while to the far south you can admire Antares in Scorpius.
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