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Photo of the Week. Bursting sunrise.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, October 3, 2008.

Night-by-night, the waxing crescent Moon climbs out of western evening twilight, growing fatter and setting ever later as it heads towards first quarter the morning of Tuesday, October 7, after moonset in North America. It thereafter continues to grow in the waxing gibbous phase. As the quarter is approached, the Moon takes on Sagittarius and Jupiter. The night of Sunday the 5th, it will lie to the west of the Archer's "Teapot," while the following night, that of Monday the 6th, it will pass a couple degrees to the south of the giant planet, the pairing making a fine sight. At the end of our week, the Moon invisibly passes Neptune the morning of Friday the 10th.

As bright as it is, Venus remains elusive. Though it passed superior conjunction with the Sun (on the other side of the Sun) early last June, the flatness of the evening ecliptic against the horizon keeps the planet low in the southwest after sunset. The situation will rapidly change as the month rolls on, allowing our nearest neighbor to dominate early evening skies. On the other hand, Venus's brother planet, Mercury, is quite gone from the visible heavens, as it passes inferior conjunction with the Sun on Monday the 6th. The little planet, closest to the Sun, will thence become a morning object as it climbs the dawn sky toward a fine (for Mercury) appearance later in the month.

Until Venus climbs higher, however, Jupiter still claims dominion over the early evening sky. Seen to the south- southwest as the sky darkens, the giant planet (still in Sagittarius north of the Little Milk Dipper) now sets by 11:30 PM Daylight Time. On the other side of the sky, Saturn, in south-central Leo to the southeast of Regulus, slowly becomes visible, rising about an hour before the onset of dawn.

In mid-evening, around 9 PM, look for the cocked-hat shape of Capricornus fairly low to the south. Below it is a dim-bulb of a modern constellation honoring the microscope, not surprisingly called Microscopium, while to the southeast is that announcer of northern autumn, the bright first magnitude star Fomalhaut, in Pisces Austrinus, the Southern Fish. Immediately above Capricornus are the sprawling stars of western Aquarius, the Water Bearer, whose Y-shaped "Water-Jar" straddles the celestial equator. All these, plus Pisces (to the northeast of Aquarius), fill in the sky's "wet quarter."
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