Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, October 2, 1998.

The Moon grows through its gibbous phase this week to full on Monday, the 5th, this full Moon, like the one in September, also called the "Harvest Moon" as it is the closer to the time of the autumnal equinox, but also the "Hunter's Moon" as it occurs in October. Frost is not far off now as the Sun glides slowly to the south along the ecliptic path, rising ever later, setting ever earlier, crossing the sky ever lower to the south. During the remainder of the week, the Moon will rise ever more after sundown as it goes through its waning gibbous phase, passing just south of Jupiter the morning of Saturday, the 4th and a bit farther to the south of Saturn the evening of Tuesday the 6th. The Moon will also pass its closest point to the Earth -- perigee -- on its elliptical orbit only a day after it passes full. The combination of the alignment of the Moon with the Sun and the relative lunar closeness will produce especially high tides in coastal areas.

Mercury first disappeared from the morning sky, and now Venus is gone, as both the inferior planets -- those inside the orbit of the Earth -- are on the far side of the Sun and too close in angle to it to be seen. However, the three bright superior planets -- those outside the terrestrial orbit -- now march in stately fashion across the nighttime sky. Jupiter is well up in the southeast in evening twilight. Saturn then climbs the eastern sky by 9 PM or so. Finally, Mars rises around 3:30 AM and is nicely visible in the eastern sky at dawn. Earth is slowly catching up to Mars in orbit, but the process is slow, and it will be some time before the red planet is visible in the evening. Its rapid motion to the east against the background stars is now especially fast. Now in Leo, Mars will pass about a degree north of the first magnitude star Regulus between the mornings of Monday the 5th and Tuesday the 6th.

The early evening now is a stage for the great Summer Triangle of stars, great Deneb overhead, Vega a bit to the west and Altair to the south of them. Look too for the lonely bright star Fomalhaut gliding slowly not far above the southern horizon, the luminary of Piscis Austrinus, the "Southern Fish. Below it is the lovely "modern" constellation Grus, the Crane. If you have no southern obscuration, Grus for all the world looks like a great bird stalking on spindly legs across the southern horizon.
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