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 Aries.

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 10th.
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