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Wind-blown clouds

Photo of the Week. An evening wind clears the sky.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, November 16, 2007.

Comet Holmes continues to drift against the background stars of Perseus, passing opposition to the Sun (such as it is, since Holmes is rather far north of the ecliptic plane) on Thursday, November 29, when it will be 2.58 Astronomical Units from the Sun and 1.68 AU from Earth. It's developed a nice tail, which appears stubby from foreshortening, since it is pointed nearly away from the Sun and Earth. Look high in the northeast in mid-evening.

The Moon, however, will get more and more in the way of comet- viewing, as it passes first quarter on Saturday the 17th, then waxes in its gibbous phase to full on Saturday the 24th, about the time of moonset (and sunrise) in North America. Less than half a day before formal full phase, the Moon passes perigee, where it is closest to Earth. If you are on the coast, watch for particularly high and low tides. As it goes, the Moon passes south of Neptune on Saturday the 17th, then north of Uranus on Monday the 19th. After waning in the gibbous, last quarter is finally achieved just after our fortnight ends, on Saturday, December 1. Then be sure to look the night of Monday the 26th, when the Moon will make a beautiful pairing with (just above) rising Mars near the western edge of classical Gemini. The morning of Friday the 30th sees the Moon just to the west of Regulus in Leo.

Jupiter, which has been with us for much of the year, is now effectively lost to twilight. Taking its place is Mars, which at the beginning of our period rises above the eastern horizon around 7:30 PM, then dominates the planetary evening until brilliant Venus rises around 3 AM. Look for Venus near Spica (in Virgo) during the second half of our period, the planet passing north of the star on Wednesday the 28th. On the morning of Sunday the 18th, Mars and Venus, which bracket the Earth, have a crossing of sorts when Mars transits the meridian just as Venus rises. You can easily watch Venus climb the southeastern sky as twilight brightens toward sunrise. In between, Saturn passes its own divide, as on Thursday the 22nd it crosses over into evening, rising at local midnight. Finally, Uranus decides to quit retrograde on Saturday the 24th, when it resumes its easterly motion against the stars of eastern Aquarius to the south of the Circlet of Pisces.

The famed Leonid meteor shower peaks the morning of Monday the 19th, but don't expect much, as the orbiting blob of meteoroids that produced the immense showers of a few years ago has long since passed.

'Tis the season to admire Pegasus, the Flying Horse, and his attendants. Look for the Great Square high to the south around 8 PM. To the north of the horse are Cassiopeia and Cepheus, while to the northeast are Andromeda and the horse's master, Perseus. To the southeast, across Pisces, swims the Cetus, the Whale or Sea Monster.
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