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Photo of the Week. Orange sunset.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, November 1, 2008.

The ever-popular Moon passes through its full phase the night of Wednesday, November 12th, around midnight in North America, with the Moon crossing the meridian high and bright. With the Sun now in central Libra heading southward along the ecliptic toward the Winter Solstice, the full Moon takes its place between classical Aries and Taurus (to the west of the Pleiades and northwest of Aldebaran), our companion now heading northward toward the Summer Solstice. During the early part of the week, the Moon waxes through its gibbous phase, while after full, we see a couple days of the waning gibbous.

Near the beginning of the week, the night of Saturday the 8th, the Moon passes a few degrees north of Uranus, which lies near the Pisces-Aquarius border to the south of Pisces' "Circlet." At the other end of the week, the morning of Friday the 14th, the waning gibbous Moon passes perigee, where (and when) it is closest to the Earth (5.5 percent closer than average).

The evening sky is now gloriously alight with the two brightest of planets, Venus and Jupiter. (Jupiter can barely be beaten out by Mars when it is at its closest to us, but that is a rare event.) In mid-twilight, Venus can hardly be missed in the southwest, while Jupiter shines some 30 degrees to the east, Venus roughly six times the brighter of the two. Venus is now in far western Sagittarius, very close to the Winter Solstice. That and the tilt of its orbit makes it about as far south as it can get, two degrees south of the Solstice itself, just north of the Galaxy's Center and of last week's "Star of the Week," X Sagittarii. Jupiter, on the other hand, lies in far eastern Sagittarius to the northeast of the Little Milk Dipper. While both planets are in direct easterly motion against the background stars, Venus is moving the faster and will catch up with the giant planet at the end of the month.

Moving easterly (and northward) along the ecliptic, we next arrive at vastly dimmer Neptune (about 5 times fainter than the naked eye can see). Moving ever so slowly against the stars of far northeastern Capricornus, the planet -- with an orbital period of 165 years -- has not quite made a full circuit since its discovery in 1846. Farther along yet lies Uranus. Though dim, it can actually be seen without a telescope as it slowly moves retrograde in -- as noted above -- northeastern Aquarius below the Circlet of Pisces. Both are evening planets, Neptune transiting the meridian at the end of twilight, Uranus an hour and a half later. Continuing along the ecliptic path we go over the top at the Summer Solstice, and then down to Leo and Saturn, which rises around 2 AM rather well to the east of Regulus.

While admiring Jupiter, look to the east to find autumn's Fomalhaut in Pisces Austrinus, the Southern Fish, as the lonely first magnitude star glides across the sky not far above the southern horizon. If you are far enough south, you might spot the modern constellation Grus, the Crane, below and a bit to the right of it.
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