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Photo of the Week. Cygnus, the Swan, departs for warmer climes.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, November 14, 2008.

After passing its full phase last week, we pick up the Moon going through its waning gibbous phase as it heads toward third quarter, the phase reached during the day on Wednesday, November 19, after which we can watch a little bit of the waning crescent.

The morning of Monday the 17th finds the Moon in a lovely setting in northern Gemini just to the south of Castor and Pollux. Then two days later it takes a bead on Leo and Saturn. The morning of Wednesday the 19th, just a hair before it hits third quarter, the Moon can be found to the east of Regulus and to the left of Leo's "Sickle," while the following morning it will have flipped to the other side of the star. As our week draws to a close, on the morning of Friday the 21st, the waning crescent will be just to the southwest of Saturn, the two making a fine pairing.

The sky is currently bookended by Saturn and the Venus/Jupiter duo. Look to the southwest in early evening in twilight for a magnificent view of brilliant Venus, which, though low above the horizon, can hardly be missed. Up and to the left is bright Jupiter, the two bracketing Sagittarius, Venus in the western part of the constellation, Jupiter in the east and still up and to the left of the Little Milk Dipper. Moving easterly against the stars faster than Jupiter, Venus is closing in the giant planet. Watch as they appear to get closer and closer. The juxtaposition, is however, only in the line of sight, as when they cross paths at the end of November, Jupiter will be 5.7 Astronomical Units away from us (the AU the average distance between Earth and Sun), Venus just 1.0 AU distant, Jupiter nearly 6 times farther away. We lose Venus first, the planet setting around 7 PM just after the end of twilight. Jupiter follows around 8:30 PM. Then we have only Uranus and Neptune to kick around until Saturn lofts itself above the eastern horizon at 1:30 or so.

The week features one of the most famed of meteor showers, the Leonids, which peak the morning of Monday the 17th. But don't expect much. We are well past the maximum (which we hit in a 33 year cycle), and the Moon will take out much of the leavings.

Once the Moon is out of the way, you might try admiring the Great Square of Pegasus, a large box of stars that crosses the meridian fairly high to the south at around 8 PM. Below it, find the Circlet of Pisces, and to the right the "Y"-shaped Water Jar of Aquarius. Pegasus is home to a 6th magnitude star called HR 8799, around which three planets have been directly observed, each of which is considerably more massive than Jupiter. Fomalhaut, in Piscis Austrinus, has another one buried in its dusty disk. Astronomers have been waiting for decades for just such discoveries. You can see Fomalhaut far to the south in early evening.
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