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High sunset

Photo of the Week. The Sun sinks deeper within the atmospheric haze layer as seen from 25,000 feet; compare with the earlier picture.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, October 18, 2013.

Friday night, October 18, is the night of the full Moon, one almost as famed as the Harvest Moon and for the same reason. This one is known as the Hunter's Moon. In the early evening, the ecliptic (the apparent path of the Sun, which is followed fairly closely by the Moon) lies relatively flat against the eastern horizon. As a result, the delay in Moonrise from one night to the next after full phase is minimized, and the early evenings after sunset are flooded with Moonlight, just right for the ancient hunt. This full Moon is also eclipsed by the Earth's shadow. But don't bother looking, as it's a penumbral eclipse, and a partial one at that. In the penumbra of a shadow, only a portion of sunlight is cut off. None of this full Moon enters full shadow, and the effect is barely visible if at all. A little dimming of the lower portion of the Moon might be seen at maximum eclipse, which takes place at 6:50 PM CDT. The Moon thereafter fades away in the waning gibbous phase until it reaches third quarter next week, the night of Saturday the 26th. Swinging up along the Zodiac from Pisces (where it resides in the full phase), it glides between the Pleiades and Aldebaran during midweek, then finishes the week southwest of bright Jupiter.

Before anything, however, look to the southwest in the early evening for brilliant Venus, which makes itself quite obvious. This current apparition as "evening star" has been a poor one. Now separating itself from the end of twilight, the planet's visibility is rapidly improving, as Venus does not set until shortly before 8:30 PM Daylight time, after the sky has become fully dark. We then go planetless for a few hours until Jupiter (the second brightest of the planets) rises around 11 PM nicely placed in Gemini to the south of Castor and Pollux. Mars joins the giant planet by rising about 2:30 AM. Having passed Regulus last week, Mars is now gliding south of the classical figure of Leo, with the star to the west of it.

One of the better meteor showers of the year, the Orionids , hits its peak the morning of Monday the 21st. In a dark sky you might ordinarily see 20 or so an hour, possibly more, seeming to emenate from the constellation of Orion. But sadly, the sky is awash with the light of a bright gibbous Moon, and except for the hard core watcher who is hoping to catch some bright ones, it is, like the eclipse above, is not worth much of a look. The Orionids are the flakings of Halley's Comet, whose orbit we approach twice a year. We'll come back to it on the other side with early May's Eta Aquarids.

Speaking of Orion, he is on full display in the early morning hours before dawn. Just look to the south and about halfway up. With Sirius down and to the left, Procyon to the upper left, Jupiter in Gemini with Castor and Pollux, and Mars in Leo with Regulus, the whole gang makes for a super sight. Back in the evening, if you are far enough south to see the Southern Cross, you might find second magnitude Alpha Pavonis, the luminary of Pavo, the Peacock, skimming the horizon far below Altair.
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