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Early autumn

Photo of the Week.. Early autumn.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, October 12, 2012.

The Moon begins our week in its waning crescent phase. While under ideal conditions you might see it in eastern twilight the morning of Sunday, October 14, the odds are that your last look at it will be the morning of Saturday the 13th, when it will present a fine sight well below brilliant Venus. The Moon then passes through new on the morning of Monday the 15th. Our first look at the waxing crescent then (with a clear horizon) could be in evening twilight the night of Tuesday the 16th, when the Moon will be a bit down and to the right of elusive Mercury, which is making a poor appearance. The following night, that of Wednesday the 17th, will be much better. Look for Mars (again with a clear horizon) up and to the left. Then the evening of Thursday the 18th, Mars will lie down and to the right of the growing crescent. Be sure to admire earthlight shining on the lunar nighttime side, which allows the whole Moon to be visible.

Mars still sets just half an hour past the end of evening twilight. It is now in a special place as it prepares to pass to the north of its stellar namesake, Antares ("like Ares," Ares the Greek version of the god of war) in Scorpius. The two are of roughly comparable brightness, Antares just a bit brighter. But the evening belongs ever more to Jupiter, which now rises around 9 PM Daylight time and is still ensconced within central Taurus to the northeast of Aldebaran and the Hyades cluster, all making for a pretty sight in a dark sky. The morning hours then give us Venus, which can be seen rising around 4 AM to the south of classical Leo (southeast of Regulus) just about the time that Jupiter is crossing the meridian to the south.

In mid-evening, as the Big Dipper begins to dive under the pole, look for the distinctive "W" of Cassiopeia high in the northeastern sky. A closer look may bring out the outline of the Queen's quite-uncomfortable "Chair." The constellation is, along with King Cepheus, the most northerly that holds the Milky Way, the combined light of the stars of our Galaxy's flat disk, in which the Sun resides. To the south of her lie the star streams that make her daughter Andromeda, while to the north there is not much but the northern tip of Cepheus and the celestial rotation pole, marked by Polaris.
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