Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, November 3, 2000.
Our Moon passes through its first quarter around midnight the night
of Friday, November 3rd, shortly after moonset in North America.
The rest of the week sees the Moon waxing through its gibbous phase
as it moves toward full (that phase reached next Saturday, the
11th), at the same time climbing northward from Capricornus to
After a long hiatus, bright planets are now making a major impact
on the nighttime sky. Venus is glorious, though still low, in the
southwest after sundown, now setting just after twilight ends. At
about the same time, in the other direction, bright Jupiter is
climbing the eastern sky, preceded by dimmer Saturn. Look to the
east around 9 PM and admire the two planets set like jewels amidst
the bright stars of Taurus, Jupiter just a bit north of the star
Aldebaran. The morning is not without its Solar System objects,
however, as Mars (now rising around 3 AM) hovers south of the back
end of Leo and Mercury prepares to make a run toward greatest
western elongation next week.
Another piece of the Solar System that is not so well known now
climbs the eastern sky just before dawn, the "zodiacal light," a
band of light that runs through the zodiac caused by sunlight
reflecting from Solar System debris, from the leavings of comets
and smashed asteroids. It is best seen in spring evenings in the
west just after the end of twilight and in fall mornings in the
east just before dawn as a cone of light standing up from the
horizon. With the Moon out of the way, those living in dark
locations away from the cities can see it easily during the hour or
so before morning twilight, which begins around 5 AM.
Before the Moon blots them out, admire the stars of autumn, which
are now if full swing in the early evening sky. First find that
great fall symbol, the Great Square of Pegasus due south around 9
PM. Swinging up and to the left of the Great Square is the curve
of bright stars that makes Andromeda, while the flat triangle that
makes Aries lies due east of it. A line passed south from the most
easterly star of Andromeda through the brightest star of Aries will
pass very close to the great red variable star Mira, which is just
south of the celestial equator in the otherwise dim constellation
Cetus. Mira, which varies from around third magnitude down to well
under naked-eye vision, has a period just short of a year, and is
now in a cycle in which it is nicely visible in successive autumns.
The Moon will be almost due north of Mira the night of Friday, the