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Trees in Wind

Photo of the Week. Standing against the sky, wind- blown trees guard the shore.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, September 12, 2008.

The Moon starts us off in its waxing gibbous phase, then hits full early in the week on the night of Sunday, September 14 (actually early on the morning of the 15th shortly before moonset in North America). Our companion then enters its waning gibbous phase as it goes to third quarter next week on Sunday the 21st.

The outer planets then take the stage, as the Moon winds past Neptune (in northern Capricornus near the Aquarius border) the night of Friday the 12th. The Moon actually occults the planet as seen from most of North America. Not, with the Moon so bright and the planet so dim, that one could readily see the event. Then the night of Sunday the 14th, just an hour before full phase, the Moon passes a few degrees north of Uranus (practically on the Aquarius-Pisces line). These two outer planets are fascinating. Often lumped with Jupiter and Saturn as "Jovian planets," they are terribly different from their larger siblings, with much lower masses and densities and made of heavier stuff. More slowly rotating, their magnetic fields are wildly offset from the planetary cores. Uranus then passes opposition to the Sun the night of Friday the 12th.

For other happenings you can't actually see, there is Venus passing north of the star Spica on Thursday the 18th, and on that night a conjunction between Mercury and Mars, which will be quite out of sight above the bright twilight western horizon. Too bad, because the quartet will make a nifty quadrilateral with Venus on top. Venus itself, however, may be -- depending on the clarity of your sky and the visibility of your horizon -- quite noticeable.

Back to the visible, look of course to bright Jupiter, which occupies our southern sky as it transits the meridian to the south during mid-twilight about the time Venus sets. The giant planet then makes something of a transition this week as it sets at local midnight (1 AM Daylight Time).

After the brilliance of the Scorpius-Sagittarius pair, the next constellation in the Zodiac -- Capricornus the (of all things) the "Water Goat" (we've all seen them) -- seems rather disappointing. Yet sandwiched between bright Sagittarius and Aquarius, Capricornus has its own charm, looking like an upside-down old fashioned hat, several of its stars -- Algedi (Alpha Cap), Dabih (Beta) and Deneb Algedi (Delta) quite well- known. The next time you have dark skies, go take a look.
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