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Astronomy Picture of the Day

Bare Trees

Photo of the Week.. Trees of late autumn raise their bare branches in homage to the deep blue sky.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, November 1, 2002.

A slim crescent Moon wanes toward new the early part of the week, its nighttime side awash with earthlight. Watch for it rising above the eastern horizon in the morning hours just before twilight. The morning of Saturday, November 2, the thin crescent will make a particular attractive configuration as it lies above reddish Mars, with Porrima (Gamma Virginis) practically between the two. By the next morning, Sunday, November 3, the Moon will be well below the two and quite difficult to find. New Moon then takes place on Monday the 4th. By the night of Tuesday the 5th, the thin waxing crescent will be just barely visible in bright evening twilight, and by the next night it will be obvious deep in the southwest in early twilight. Less than a day before the new phase, the Moon will pass through its perigee point, once again bringing especially high tides to the coasts.

Two weeks ago, Neptune , in Capricornus, ceased retrograde and began moving easterly against the stars. Now it is Uranus 's turn. Though actually visible to the naked eye, Uranus was discovered only in relatively modern times, by William Herschel in 1781. Now also within the confines of eastern Capricornus (just above Delta Capricorni), this seventh planet from the Sun becomes stationary (ceasing retrograde) on Monday the 4th, and then heads easterly toward Aquarius, which it will enter about the time the Sun crosses the winter solstice next December.

Jupiter and Saturn make a much bigger splash. The ringed planet is now making serious inroads into the evening sky, rising shortly before 8 PM Standard Time. Jupiter, still moving easterly against the starry background between the classic figures of Cancer and Leo, launches itself above the eastern horizon around 11:30 PM.

November is the month of the southern fish, Piscis Austrinus, which (as seen from the mid-northern hemisphere) swims just above the southern horizon in early evening, its bright star Fomalhaut 30 degrees south of the celestial equator. Above it lies Aquarius, the Water Bearer, who is commonly depicted as pouring water into the Fish's mouth, and above that Pegasus, the right-hand side of the Great Square pointing directly south to the bright star. Below Fomalhaut find a pair of bright stars that appear to represent the feet of a long- necked bird, and help form the modern constellation Grus, the Crane. Though entirely out of sight for mid-northern viewers, between Grus the south celestial pole lies yet another bird, Tucana, the Toucan. Birds seemed to have fascinated the makers of the constellations. From the northern hemisphere you can still easily admire both Cygnus (the Swan) and Aquila (the Eagle), now slowly escaping to the west.
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