Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, October 17, 2003.
The week begins with the Moon practically at its new phase, the
Moon passing a bit above the Sun the morning of Saturday, October
25. Watch for it the evening of Sunday, the 26th, as a thin crescent in
southwestern twilight. As the week progresses, the crescent will
climb ever higher as evening descends, the Moon's nighttime side
glowing softly with Earthlight
until the first quarter approaches, that phase reached next Friday,
the 31st. The evening of Sunday the 26th, the Moon will be just to
the left of Venus, allowing the
bright planet to be readily located. The following night, Monday
the 27th, the crescent will be nicely placed among the stars of Scorpius, to the right of the star Antares. Venus will actually be
occulted be the Moon as seen from Hawaii.
Venus's "inferior" partner
Mercury (Venus and Mercury called the "inferior planets"
because they are interior to the Earth's orbit) is completely out
of sight, as it passes superior conjunction with the Sun (when it
is on the other side of the Sun) on Saturday, the 25th. Obvious
Saturn, now rising around 9 PM Standard Time, also passes an
orbital milestone, as it ceases its direct easterly motion against
the stars of Gemini, and begins
retrograde, to the west (the effect only an illusion as the
Earth prepares to pass between it and the Sun). About an hour
before Saturn rises,
Mars crosses the meridian to the south. Though near the end of
the month Mars is 60 percent farther from us than when it was at
its close approach last August 27, the planet is still brighter
than all stars but the brightest, Sirius. About half an hour after
Mars sets (around 1:30 AM),
Jupiter rises south of the classic figure of Leo.
Note that on Sunday, October 26, most of the US and Canada move
Daylight Time back to Standard by setting the clocks back by
one hour. Daylight time is an artifice in which we move one time
zone forward to make the Sun appear to set and rise an hour later
than it really does.
The stars of autumn are now full upon us. Look for the Great Square of Pegasus high to
the south around 9 PM. Below it and sprawling to the east is one
of the dimmer constellations of the Zodiac, Pisces, the Fishes, along with Capricornus and Aquarius a reminder of an ancient wet season.
Immediately south of the Square is Pisces' most prominent part, the
"Circlet," which lies almost
directly east of Aquarius's Y-shaped "Water Jar." Running up from
the upper left corner of the Square is a stream of stars that makes
part of Andromeda, the home
of the most distant object that can be seen with the naked eye, the
Galaxy, a massive spiral galaxy much like our own that lies
some two million light years away.