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Blue Pool

Photo of the Week. The blue sky, mirrored in deep pool.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, November 6, 2009.

Having passed full, the Moon spends the earliest part of the week waning through the gibbous phase. It then crosses third quarter on Monday, November 9, about the time of Moonset in North America. The remainder of the week then sees our companion waning through the crescent as it heads toward new early next week. The night of Friday the 6th, it passes perigee , where it is closest to the Earth.

As it rounds the Earth, the Moon finds itself in some lovely settings. The night of Friday the 6th, the waning gibbous will fall smack in the center of Gemini to the southwest of Castor and Pollux, while the following night the two stars will point southeasterly toward it. Then the night of Sunday the 8th, the Moon will rise just three degrees to the south of reddish Mars. Saturn gets into the act as well, as on the morning of Thursday the 12th, the crescent will be seen several degrees to the right of it.

Though Mars encroaches on it by rising now at 10:30 PM, the evening still belongs the king of the planetary system (with three times the mass of all the other planets rolled together), Jupiter. Look for it to the south as twilight draws to a close around 6:30 PM. Slowly drifting to the east against the stars, Jupiter still holds court in northeastern Capricornus near the Aquarius border. Then its back to Mars, the red planet now appearing just a bit to the east of the Beehive cluster, which it crossed in front of last week.

An hour after Mars rises, Jupiter sets, and we are into the morning hours to wait for Saturn's 3 AM (or so) arrival, the ringed planet creeping east in Virgo just to the northeast of the autumnal equinox. Finally, Venus enters the scene. Now rising around 5:30 AM, just after the beginning of morning twilight, the planet is becoming more elusive in a brightening sky in spite of its great brilliance.

Though the autumn constellations are upon us, the stars of summer linger on, perhaps making us feel a bit warmer. Indeed, Cygnus the Swan, with first magnitude Deneb (the faintest star of the Summer Triangle), is so far north it will be with us until winter and the end of the year. But then it's back to autumn, told to us by lonely but bright Fomalhaut, visible low in the south down and to the left of Jupiter. Then the chill of winter is in the air, as by late evening not only is Orion up but so is Sirius of Canis Major, the sky's brightest star.
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