Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, September 3, 1999.

The Moon moves through its waning crescent phase this week as it heads toward its rendezvous with the Sun and new Moon on Thursday, the 9th. Invisible now in the evening, the Moon makes a fine sight in the early morning hours and as dawn twilight ascends the eastern horizon.

The twilight morning also now contains brilliant Venus, seen easily low to the east shortly before sunrise. The slim crescent Moon will pass a few degrees to the north of the planet the morning of Tuesday, the 7th, the pair making a lovely sight. Venus, in retrograde motion to the west against the stars, has popped up in the morning sky very quickly. It ceases retrograde and will begin direct easterly movement against the stars on Thursday, the 9th, just as the Moon hits new. The Sun is moving faster to the east, however, so it will still pull away from the planet. As a result, Venus will rise ever earlier and will climb higher away from morning twilight, at the same time continuing to brighten. Its companion Mercury, however, is entirely out of sight, as it passes superior conjunction with the Sun (on the other side of the Sun) on Wednesday the 8th.

The evening sky now holds Jupiter and Saturn, the bright giant of the Solar System well up in the east by 11 PM, Saturn just a bit behind it. Slowly falling behind Earth, but hanging on to the early evening is Mars, visible low in the southwest as darkness falls. As the week begins, Mars is entering the constellation Scorpius as it heads toward its bright namesake Antares, the Greek name meaning "like Mars" ("Ares" the Greek version of the god of war), the two having similar brightnesses and colors. This week, the planet plows through the head of the celestial Scorpion, passing only 0.2 degrees north of second magnitude Dschubba (Delta Scorpii) on Monday the 6th. The presence of so many bright stars makes the rapid easterly motion of the planet (now about 0.6 degrees per day) very evident.

While examining Scorpius, look up to a set of dim but historically important constellations. Directly above Scorpius lies huge Ophiuchus, appearing as a large mis-shapen pentagon. Wrapped with Serpens, the Serpent, Ophiuchus represents the ancient healer Asclepius, the figure the source of the physician's symbol. Above Ophiuchus is Hercules the famed Hero of ancient times and on top of that to the north is Draco the Dragon, which lies between Hercules and the Little Dipper.
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