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Photo of the Week. A still, calm ocean reflects the sky.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, October 17, 2008.

The Moon moves out of the way this week, giving us a chance to see the evening stars. Starting off in the last stages of the waning gibbous, the Moon moves through its third quarter the morning of Tuesday, October 21, shortly before sunrise in most of North America. The remainder of our week sees the waning crescent descend morning-by-morning toward the eastern horizon.

The morning of Saturday the 18th finds the Moon near its most northerly possible position (given its five degree orbital tilt against the ecliptic) in between classical Taurus and Auriga, while the morning of the third quarter (Tuesday the 21st), the Moon will visit Gemini just to the southeast of Castor and Pollux. Then take a look the morning of Friday the 24th to see the waning crescent in a lovely pre-dawn position between Leo's Regulus and Saturn, which is now eminently visible to the southeast of Regulus as morning twilight approaches.

Moving inward in the Solar System from Saturn, Jupiter is still beautifully visible in early evenings in the southwestern sky to the northeast of classical Sagittarius. Look fairly early, as the giant planet now sets shortly before 11 PM Daylight Time. Farther inward, indeed inside the Earth's orbit, are Venus and then Mercury, the first in the evening sky, the second in the morning. Now moving quickly higher, Venus does not set now until the end of evening twilight -- look for its obvious glow in growing southwestern dusk. Back into the morning, the innermost planet, Mercury, hits its greatest western elongation on Wednesday the 22nd for some of the best viewing of the year. In contrast to Venus's end-of-twilight setting, Mercury will rise (well to the east of Saturn) just as dawn begins to light the sky.

One of the year's better meteor showers is upon us this week, the Orionids, which peak the morning of Tuesday the 21st. The Orionids are one of two showers produced by the flakings of Halley's Comet, the other the Eta Aquarids of early May. Ordinarily, the Orionids produce some two dozen or so swift meteors an hour that come roughly from the direction of northern Orion. The quarter Moon, however, will blot out the fainter ones and cut the take a lot. They are still worth a look both at the peak date and a bit before and after.

While admiring the Summer Triangle of Deneb, Vega, and Altair now in the western evening sky, don't forget to look for a pretty pair of other figures in the area. About two-thirds of the way from Deneb to Altair find Sagitta, the Arrow (which really does resemble what it is named for). To the southeast of Sagitta swims Delphinus, the celestial Dolphin, which more resembles a hand with a finger pointing back to Altair's Aquila.
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