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Turbulent cloud

Photo of the Week. While dark storm clouds may hide the blue sky, they have a beauty and drama all their own.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, November 10, 2006.

The Moon, going through its phases every 29.5 days, passes its third quarter on Sunday, November 12th, during the day and about the time of Moonset. The pair of previous days have the Moon as a waning gibbous, whereas the rest of the week sees it as a waning crescent. In the middle of the week (Wednesday the 15th), the crescent coincides with apogee, at which time the Moon will be a bit over five percent farther from Earth than average.

Earlier in the week, the Moon will make a very nice passage past Saturn and through Leo. The ringed planet, in "quadrature" with the Sun (90 degrees to the west of it), now rises in late evening, around 11:30 PM. On the night of Saturday the 11th (the morning of Sunday the 12th), the quarter will, as it climbs the eastern sky, be above (to the west of) Saturn (which in turn is above, to the west of, Regulus). The following night (and morning), the Moon will have passed the planet, and will appear just below (or east of) Regulus. The morning of Tuesday the 14th, the lunar crescent passes south of the Lion's main body.

Other than Saturn, the planetary sky lacks luster. Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter are all bunched near the Sun in a sort of alignment (which has no effect on the Earth whatsoever). The lack leaves the evening with dim Uranus (in Aquarius) and dimmer Neptune (just barely in Capricornus).

The big event, and it will not be much for North America, is the Leonid meteor shower, which emanates from the direction of Leo, and which will build during the week to a peak very early next week. The leavings of Comet Tempel-Tuttle, the meteors can produce powerful storms every 33 years just after the comet passes the Earth. While we long since passed the big peak, some 100 meteors per hour are still expected, though mainly as seen from Europe and Africa. Here, we may see a few.

Among the lesser of the constellations of the Perseus myth, both in story and in brightness, is Cepheus (the King, Cassiopeia's husband). Not in interest, however. Cepheus not only contains the prototype of the Cepheid variables, Delta Cephei, it has a prominent star with a planet (Errai, Gamma Cep), two of the largest stars known (Mu and VV Cep), and is filled with distant hot blue stars that are dimmed by the interstellar dust of the Milky Way.
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