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Astronomy Picture of the Day

Mountain Shadow

Photo of the Week.. Maui's Haleakela volcano casts a stunning sunset shadow onto the Earth's atmosphere. Photo by Beth Bye.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, September 27, 2002.

The Moon passes its last quarter this week on Sunday, September 29, during daylight hours in North America, roughly about the time of moonset. The night of Saturday the 28th finds the Moon just to the northeast of Saturn. The night of Tuesday, October 1, the waning crescent will then fall about the same distance to the northeast of much brighter Jupiter.

Venus, which has been an evening companion since last March, is rapidly disappearing into the early western evening sky, and is setting in the southwest well before twilight ends. We also begin the week with Mercury in inferior conjunction with the Sun (when it is between us and the Sun), a position Venus will be in at the end of October. Instead of the two inferior planets (those closer to the Sun than we are), however, focus on the two giants of the Solar System, Saturn and Jupiter. The ringed planet, now moving very slowly to the east against the background stars near the Taurus-Gemini border, rises around 11 PM, while Jupiter, firmly ensconced in Cancer, begins to climb the eastern sky around 2:30 AM. Early risers cannot miss it high to the southeast at dawn. In a real oddity, Saturn is actually in Orion! Hardly considered a constellation of the Zodiac, the modern boundaries of the constellation contain a small narrow section that stops less than a degree short of the ecliptic. Saturn is about a degree south of the ecliptic, so for a brief time it passes through the extended outline of the giant Hunter. The visit is only an artifact of recent times and artificial boundaries, however. More interesting perhaps, Saturn is about as far north as possible, and a mere 1.7 degrees to the southwest of the summer solstice, marking its position rather nicely. Though the solstice is traditionally said to be in Gemini, it is actually just across Gemini's western border in Taurus, again an artifact of modern boundaries, as the solstice is clearly much closer to the classic figure of Gemini than to the classical figure of Taurus.

This seems to be asteroid week, three of the first four discovered in special positions. Ceres, the first one found and also the largest (900 km in diameter), is in opposition to the Sun the night of Thursday October 3, while Juno (number 3 found and 13th largest) is in conjunction with the Sun the day before, and Pallas (number 2 found and second largest) goes into retrograde on Sunday, September 29.

While the ancient constellations grab the skywatcher's attention, many are the obscure and modern ones that represent more recent times. South of Scorpius lies little Norma, the Square, south of Sagittarius Telescopium, the Telescope, south of Capricornus, Microscopium, the Microscope, and south of Pisces Austrinus (the Southern Fish) and the bright star Fomalhaut is Grus, the Crane and Sculptor, the Sculptor's Studio.
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