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Photo of the Week. Castle in the sky.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, October 31, 2008.

The Moon waxes in its crescent phase during most of the week as it heads towards its first quarter the night of Wednesday, November 5, the phase reached about the time of Moonset in North America. Watch next as it begins the first portion of the waxing gibbous phase. Early in the week, note the nighttime side of the lunar disk illuminated by light reflected from bright Earth, which would be in the waning gibbous as seen from the Moon. Sadly, no one is there to admire us.

The night of Friday, October 31, presents a dramatic panorama of planets, Moon, and stars. Venus, now brilliant in southwestern evening twilight (and quite impossible to miss), will lie just a few degrees above the slim crescent, with Antares of Scorpius (for which you will need binoculars) immediately to the right of the Moon. Then look up and to the left of the trio through Sagittarius (hard to see until dark) to Jupiter, which is slowly closing in on much brighter Venus, the two to come into conjunction the last day of November. As the week progresses, the Moon will appear well to the left of Venus the evening of Saturday, November 1, within the Teapot of Sagittarius the following evening, and then will finish the evening of Monday the 3rd with a lovely pass just a couple degrees south of Jupiter. The run quietly concludes with a passage north of Neptune (which ceases retrograde motion on Sunday the 2nd) during the day of Thursday the 6th. The night of Saturday the 1st, the Moon also passes its apogee.

Look early to catch the two bright planets, as Venus sets just shortly after twilight, by 7 PM Standard Time (which goes into effect on Sunday the 2nd), and Jupiter by 9 PM. Then sit back for the five hour wait until Saturn rises almost due east around 2 AM.

With the coming of Halloween the night of Friday the 31st, we are halfway to winter (the holiday one of the four "cross-quarter" days and akin to winter's "groundhog day," which is halfway to spring). Indeed, as Jupiter and Sagittarius set in the southwest, Orion is rising in the east, preceded by various announcers that include Auriga, Taurus, and Gemini.
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