Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, October 5, 2001.

The Moon descends in phase and brightness toward its third quarter, the phase reached the night of Tuesday, October 9 shortly before Moonrise in the Americas. The Moon will thence begin its waning crescent phase as it moves through Cancer and then into Leo. In the early part of the week the Moon will make a fine passage between the giant planets Saturn and Jupiter. The night of Saturday the 6th, the Moon will approach Saturn. The next two nights, Sunday the 7th and Monday the 8th, it will be between the pair, and then before moonrise the night of Tuesday the 9th will pass north of Jupiter, appearing to the east of the planet upon its rising.

Mars hangs low in the southwestern sky, where it will be for the rest of the year as (while trying to keep up with faster Earth) it travels easterly along the ecliptic from its current low position within the constellation Sagittarius. As it moves, it will noticeably dim as the Earth pulls away from it. Our evening attention now is slowly being displaced from Mars to Saturn, which is now rising around 9:30 PM Daylight Time, and then to Jupiter, which this week rises as Mars sets, around 11:30 PM. These two great planets are then high in the sky near dawn when brilliant Venus hovers over the eastern horizon.

Early October evenings, especially those with no Moonlight, provide a fine time to view the remaining summer stars, the Summer Triangle of Vega, Deneb, and Altair high in the sky, the northern two of the stars nearly overhead in mid-latitudes. As the Big Dipper falls in the northwest, The "W" of Cassiopeia rises in the northeast, followed by Perseus and bright Capella in Auriga. From out of Perseus flows the Milky Way through Cassiopeia and then through dim Cepheus and into Cygnus, from which it falls through Aquila and down to Sagittarius past Mars.

As the evening progresses, watch for the passage of the lonely first magnitude star Fomalhaut, which in mid-northern latitudes appears to glide slowly across the far southern sky, the star the luminary of Piscis Austrinus, the "Southern Fish." Both Fomalhaut and high brilliant Vega are surrounded by dusty disks of matter that may hold some kind of planetary system, though no planets have ever actually been detected. To the northwest of Fomalhaut is rather dim Capricornus, the Zodiac's "water goat," while to the northeast lies Aquarius, the "water bearer" and then farther to the northeast Pisces, the classic "fishes." The whole area represents a "wet quarter" of the sky that once signalled a rainy season in some ancient land.
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