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Photo of the Week.The Sun rises below a trio of striking jet contrails.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, November 11, 2011.

Welcome to Skylights' week of 11/11/11. The numbers don't mean anything special, but its rather fun to see them written out.

Our week starts with the Moon just past its full phase and in the waning gibbous, which gradually thins and fades until it reaches third quarter on Friday, November 18 shortly before the time of Moonset in North America. Even though the two are of equal angular extent, the third quarter is only half as bright as the first, as the third displays more of the dark maria (volcanically flooded basins or other areas) that make the "man in the Moon" and other fanciful figures. The evening of Friday the 11th, the fat waning gibbous Moon rises just below the Pleiades of Taurus, the Moon's brightness making the cluster quite difficult to see.

Jupiter, well up in the east as the sky darkens, makes an impressive statement, the planet nearly four times brighter than the brightest star Sirius, which now rises a bit after 10 PM (well after Orion has launched himself into the eastern heavens) and just before Jupiter crosses the meridian to the south. Jupiter then sets at the onset of dawn. On the other side of the sky, Venus becomes somewhat more visible in western evening dusk, the planet still setting just before twilight draws to a close. Just below Venus, Mercury is an even more difficult sight. Even though the little planet reaches greatest eastern elongation relative to the Sun on Monday the 14th, the ecliptic is so flat against the horizon this time of year that Mercury cannot get very high after it is dark enough to show.

Back in the east, you might watch for the rising of Saturn, which now comes up just to the north of Spica (the planet somewhat the brighter) about 4:30 AM rather well in advance of dawn (and Jupiter-set). To the west of Saturn, you can more easily admire Mars, which lies just to the east of Leo's Regulus, the red planet now rising just about midnight.

Some bits of Solar System debris make news. The morning of Thursday the 18th you might catch a few Leonid meteors (a shower that seems to come out of Leo), but the blobs of meteoroids that can make it a spectacular show are long gone and little is expected, especially under bright moonlight. But if you scan the early evening sky south of the center of a line between Vega and Arcturus you might spot the fuzz of Comet Garradd, which hovers near naked-eye visibility.

Follow the western side of the Great Square of Pegasus downward to first magnitude Fomalhaut. Down and to the right of Fomalhaut are the prominent stars of southern Grus (the Crane), while down to the left is the luminary of the eponymous Phoenix, these stars just barely grazing the southern horizon for those in the mid-US.
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