Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, October 26, 2001.

The Moon passes through its full and brightest phase this week the night of Wednesday, October 31. This one, more than the last full Moon of October 2, deserves to be called the "Hunter's Moon," as the early evening around the time of the full Moon is still dominated by moonlight. As a result of various misinterpretations, the second full Moon in a month is sometimes called a "blue Moon." This full Moon is curious in that the technical full phase occurs on the morning of Thursday, November 1, at 5 hours 41 minutes Greenwich Time (better known as Universal Time), and therefore does not qualify, nor does it in Eastern Time, which is 5 hours behind Greenwich. However, for the remainder of the Americas (Central Standard Time, 6 hours behind Greenwich, and west), this one is indeed a "blue Moon," as it takes place at 11:41 PM CST. Such timing differences can also confound the much more important date of Easter, which falls on the first Sunday following the first full Moon after the Sun passes the vernal equinox in Pisces.

The big news of the week, however, involve a remarkable interplay between Mercury and Venus. If you have never seen Mercury, now is the time, as brilliant Venus, which now rises in the east just as dawn starts to light the sky, shows the way. On Monday the 29th, Mercury reaches its greatest western elongation from the Sun. From Saturday, October 27th until Wednesday November 7, Venus and Mercury will be within a degree of each other, an extraordinary event that is rarely repeated. Just find Venus, which is hard to miss as it will be the brightest body in eastern morning twilight, and the next brightest thing close to it will be Mercury! What makes the close pass even rarer is that the two are never in formal conjunction, wherein one planet lies due north of the other. Of much lesser interest, since it cannot be seen (not in Moonlight anyway), is an event that involves Uranus, which begins its retrograde motion within the confines of dim Capricornus on the night of Monday, October 29.

On the morning of Sunday October 28, Daylight Savings Time ends in the UK, Canada, and the US, that is, we drop back an hour to our own Standard Time rather than using the one to the east of us. The sky darkens an hour earlier (a strictly artificial event, as it is the clock changing, not the sky), but we gain daylight back in the morning. Look to the south now about 8 PM STANDARD Time, and you will see the bright star Fomalhaut crossing the meridian. If you are far enough south, from just above 40 degrees north on down (sorry Canada), you can see -- once the Moon is out of the way -- the modern constellation Grus, the Crane, which, unlike most of the constellations in the sky, rather looks like what it is supposed to be, a great bird walking along the southern horizon -- providing your horizon is clear of trees, corn, or even soybeans.
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