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Photo of the Week. Evening clouds obscure the setting Sun.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, August 29, 2008.

The Moon begins the week just barely shy of new, that phase reached on Saturday, August 30. The first decent chance to view the waxing crescent will be the evening of Monday, September 1, in fairly bright twilight. At the same time, look about five degrees up and to the right to see Venus, which is coming out of the evening murk. Then, if you have binoculars, try to find Mercury, which will lie in between the two. Mars will be there too, a bit up and to the left of Venus, but don't bother, as it is much to faint to see as a result of its great distance from us, two and a half times that between Earth and Sun. Mars then invisibly passes conjunction with the Moon after midnight. The following evening, that of Tuesday the 2nd, you can find the Moon below Virgo's Spica. The remainder of the week sees the Moon in the fattening crescent as it heads toward its first quarter next Sunday, September 7.

That pretty much leaves us with the two giants of the Solar System, one brilliantly obvious, the other out of sight. On Wednesday the 3rd, Saturn passes conjunction with the Sun as it makes the transition from evening to morning, though it won't be visible in the dawn hours until late in the month. Jupiter, on the other hand, quite dominates the evening sky, shining in the south at nearly minus third magnitude just north of the Sagittarius's Little Milk Dipper. The huge planet now transits the meridian just as twilight formally ends. Moving toward the southwest, it sets about half an hour after midnight local time (1 AM Daylight).

As the Big Dipper of Ursa Major begins to swing to the left of the pole and then down into the northwest, watch for the "W" of Cassiopeia climbing in the northeast. Between the two is the Little Dipper of Ursa Minor, which in early evening stands nearly straight up on its handle, making for best viewing. Look then higher into the sky, above Polaris, for the four-star head of Draco the celestial Dragon, which winds down toward Polaris, and then wraps its slithery body around and to the left of the Little Dipper, finally ending up between it and the front bowl stars of the Big one.
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