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Photo of the Week. A blue autumn sky embraces its wildflowers.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, October 27, 2006.

The Moon begins our week in the late stages of the waxing crescent, and then passes first quarter on Sunday, October 29th, in the middle of North America's afternoon: look for it in daylight as it rises in the southeastern sky. It then spends the rest of the week in the waxing gibbous phase as it heads towards full on November 5. During the week's trip through the Zodiac, the waxing gibbous first passes to the south of Neptune on Monday the 30th, then just barely south of Uranus on the morning of Wednesday, November 1. Not that you will be able to see the events, since the bright Moon will blot out these faint outer planets.

In other invisible events (at least we know they are happening), Venus passes superior conjunction with the Sun (going around in back of the Sun) on Friday the 27th. Only a day later, Mercury passes conjunction with Jupiter deep in evening twilight as both also head for solar conjunction. Neptune then ceases retrograde (westerly) motion against the stellar background on Sunday the 29th. At least we have Saturn to admire, though only if one is willing to stay up late or get up early, as the ringed planet does not rise until just after 1 AM Daylight Time (midnight Standard Time: don't forget that we revert to Standard on Sunday the 29th). By dawn, find it high to the southeast, with Regulus (in Leo) to the east of it.

The morning hours this week feature a lesser-known "double" meteor shower emanating from Taurus (the Bull), the Taurids, the Northern and Southern Taurids combining to give us 10-15 meteors per hour. Moonlight, however, will hinder the view as the week rolls on.

As the Earth rotates on its axis, the sky seems to turn about its two rotation poles, the North and South Celestial Poles, which lie above their terrestrial counterparts, the northern celestial pole in Ursa Minor (of Little Dipper fame), the southern in faint Octans (the Octant). Circling on opposite sides of the northern pole are Ursa Major (with its Big Dipper), now falling into the northwest in the evening, and Cassiopeia (the Queen), now rising in the northeast. The brightest counterpart in the southern hemisphere is Crux (the Southern Cross), which along with Alpha and Beta Centauri in southern evenings lies beneath the Southern Pole. More or less opposing them and high in southern skies is fainter and larger Hydrus, the Water Snake.
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