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Photo of the Week. Twilight...

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, October 21, 2011.

The Moon fades away this week from just-past-third-quarter through its waning crescent phase towards new, which it will hit on Wednesday, October 26, when it switches from the morning sky into evening. Your last look at the thin waning crescent may be had shortly before sunrise the morning of Tuesday the 25th, while the first glimpse of the thin waxing crescent will be during evening twilight on Friday the 28th.

Look the morning of Saturday the 22nd to see the Moon rising well below Mars with Regulus of Leo just up and to the left of the crescent. Then, though the sight will be quite invisible, the night of Thursday the 27th, the Moon will pass to the south of both Mercury and Venus. The Moon will actually occult (pass directly over) Mercury as seen from areas of the south Pacific. Just 8 hours before new Moon, the Moon passes perigee, where it is closest to Earth, the combination bringing especially high and low tides to the coasts.

Jupiter and Mars still provide the planetary show. At opposition to the Sun next Friday the 28th, Jupiter rises just after sunset, is nicely up in the east by the time the sky is dark, and is with us all night, crossing the meridian to the south around local midnight (1 AM Daylight Time). The planet is so bright (minus- third magnitude) that it is drawing considerable public attention. About half an hour after Jupiter moves into the sky's western half, Mars, now scurrying toward the Sickle of Leo, rises, the orangy-red color of the planet making a nice contrast with blue-white Regulus.

Watch too for the Orionid meteor shower (the debris of Halley's Comet), which seems to come out of Orion and peaks the night of Friday the 21st and the following morning. Though it typically produces some 20 meteors per hour, the near-quarter-Moon will significantly interfere with the event, washing out the fainter meteors.

Look in late evening for the large box of stars that makes the Great Square of Pegasus. Coming off the northeast corner are the graceful curves of stars that make up Andromeda of the eponymous myth. Directly south of the Square will be the distorted circle of stars that forms the "Circlet" of Pisces, down and to the left of which is the Vernal Equinox, the point that the Sun passes over in March to begin astronomical spring, which, as we deepen into Autumn, now seems so far away.
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