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Rising cloud

Photo of the Week. A convective column of warm air produces a rising tower of cloud.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, September 26, 2008.

The Moon fades early in the week through its waning crescent phase, and turns to new the morning of Monday the 29th well before Sunrise. Try to find the very thin crescent in the eastern twilight sky the morning of Saturday, September 27. Then see if you can spot Saturn to the left and a bit down from it. During the rest of the week the Moon will have flipped to the other side as a western-twilight waxing crescent, the first real view of it coming the night of Wednesday, October 1st. Far down in the southwest, the Moon will underlie Venus, which is slowly becoming prominent. By the next evening, the planet will be directly to the right of the Moon.

The Sun having passed the autumnal equinox in Virgo last Monday, September 22, we are now on the other side of Fall. Watch the progression of sunset to the southwest, the Sun moving at its maximum southerly rate of 0.4 degree per day. With the point of sunrise moving southward as well, the early mornings are becoming ever darker, allowing early risers to see the stars.

Jupiter, slowly moving to the east against the starry background north of the stars of Sagittarius's Little Milk Dipper, continues to dominate the southwestern evening sky. Setting ever earlier, the giant planet now goes down around midnight Daylight Time. With Venus setting ever later, the two are headed for a heavenly conjunction, just two degrees apart, at the end of November. Once you locate Venus (which in a while will not be difficult), keep your eye on their approach to each other.

Circulating around the North Celestial Pole, and Polaris, is a collection of constellations that for those in mid-northern latitudes never sets, these "circumpolar stars" including the Little Dipper, most of Ursa Major's Big Dipper, and Cassiopeia. Similarly out of sight for northerners is a collection that never rises that includes the Southern Cross, southern Centaurus, and a variety of others that end at dim Octans at the South Celestial Pole.
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