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Astronomy Picture of the Day

Moon and Flowers

Photo of the Week.. The rising quarter Moon is graced with spring flowers, a reminder of the warmth to come after winter.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, October 18, 2002.

The next Skylights will appear on Sunday, October 27.

The Moon waxes in its gibbous phase the early part of the week, and reaches full the night of Sunday, the 20th, just about midnight in North America as the Moon is crossing the meridian to the south amidst the stars of Pisces and a bit to the south of the solar ecliptic path. A day before, our companion passes through its apogee, where it is farthest from the Earth. The night of Friday, the 25th (the morning of the 26th), the Moon will be found just to the north of Saturn.

The ringed planet, which now rises around 9:30 PM Daylight time, has just begun its retrograde motion, and is now moving almost insensibly to the west against the background stars. On Sunday the 20th, Neptune, deep within Capricornus, does the opposite, stopping retrograde and beginning to move in direct fashion, to the east, not that anyone will particularly notice, as the planet is so dim and in addition is so washed out with bright moonlight. And too bad, because it and its near-twin Uranus have a lot to offer. While the two Solar System giants, Jupiter (now in Cancer and rising just after 1 AM Daylight Time) are yellowish in color, Uranus is blue-green, and Neptune quite blue, the result of absorption of reflected sunlight by atmospheric methane. Uranus presents us with an astonishing mystery, as its axis, indeed the whole satellite system, is tilted at a near-right angle relative to the orbital axis. No one knows why.

The inferior planets are now taking a rest. Having passed greatest western elongation with the Sun, Mercury is effectively gone from the morning sky, and Venus no longer graces the evening as it prepares to pass between us and the Sun.

The week marks one of the better meteor showers of the year, the Orionids, which go on for roughly two weeks and peak around Sunday the 20th and Monday, the 21st. Unfortunately, the bright Moon will pretty much wash out the event. The Orionids, which seem to emanate from northeast of the constellation Orion, are best seen in early morning, and are debris flaked off the nucleus of Halley's Comet, whose orbit we are now passing. Halley's is the only comet that produces not one, but two, meteor showers, the other one the "Eta Aquarids" of May.

By 9 PM, Cygnus (with first magnitude Deneb) has moved past the meridian as it makes way for the autumn stars. Between it and Altair of Aquila to the south lie two lovely small constellations, box-like Delphinus, the Dolphin, and Sagitta, the Arrow, the latter quite looking like what it is supposed to be. To the east of the meridian find the Great Square of Pegasus, and below it the "Circlet" that represents one the zodiac's pair of fish that lie within the constellation Pisces.
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