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Darkening sky

Photo of the Week. Darkening sky.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, October 11, 2013.

The phases of the Moon have become temporarily linked to Skylights' schedule. We begin the week on Friday, October 4, with the Moon in its near perfect first quarter in between the classical figures of Sagittarius and Capricornus. During the rest of the week the Moon both climbs northward and fattens through its waxing gibbous phase, finally reaching full the night of Friday the 18th about the time of Moonrise in North America, the "Hunter's Moon" blotting out the stars of Pisces. That night the Moon will pass through the outer part of the penumbral shadow of the Earth and be barely eclipsed. Don't bother looking. Nowhere on the Moon is sunlight completely shut off, and the effect is only marginally visible.

What IS visible are a pair of nifty pairings between stars and planets. Look the morning of Monday the 14th for Mars, which rises in Leo just before 3 AM Daylight time only a degree north of the star Regulus. The two will make a fine color contrast, the redness (really more orange) of Mars enhanced by the whiteness of the star. Then look in western evening twilight for eminently visible Venus, which does not set until half an hour after the sky becomes fully dark. The evening of Wednesday the 16th, the Moon will make a close pass to Antares of Scorpius, with the star a mere 1.5 degrees below the planet. Now it is the redness of the star that stands out (the very name "Antares" meaning "like Mars"). In between it's hard to miss Jupiter, which rises around midnight Daylight Time ensconced within Gemini southwest of Castor and Pollux and then dominates the sky. In minor news, the Moon passes six degrees north of Neptune the night of Monday the 14th, then about half that angle north of Uranus three days later.

If you wait up for the rising of Jupiter, look for the Great Square of Pegasus high near the meridian. The Circlet of Pisces will be below it, but will be gradually wiped out by the brightening Moon. As dawn approaches, Orion dominates the stellar scene with Sirius down and to the left. In the early evening find Cygnus the Swan nearly overhead with the great supergiant Deneb marking the Swan's tail. Then look early to the south for the upside down Little Milk Dipper of Sagittarius. Below it, just above the horizon, is the graceful curve of stars that make Corona Australis, the Southern Crown.
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