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Photo of the Week. Glory at sunset.

Astronomy news for the two-week period starting Friday, November 20, 2009.

We begin with the Moon in its waxing crescent phase as it closes in on first quarter on Tuesday, November 24. Continuing to wax in the gibbous phase, the Moon then hits full a week later, around or just after midnight the night of Tuesday, December 1. The remainder of the week then sees it gibbously wane. The Moon passes apogee, where it is farthest from Earth, on Sunday the 22nd of November and then makes its perigee passage the morning of Friday, December 4th.

Even given the two weeks available, there is but one obvious planetary passage. Look for the fat crescent Moon a few degrees to the north of Jupiter the evening of Monday the 23rd. Later in our period the Moon will make a nice triangular configuration with Castor and Pollux (to the southwest of the two stars) the night of Thursday, December 3. In lesser passages, the Moon zips north of Neptune the night of Monday the 23rd, then north of Uranus on Thursday the 26th. Speaking of the seventh planet from the Sun, Uranus, just below the Circlet of Pisces, ceases retrograde motion on Tuesday the 1st as it resumes its slow easterly motion against the stars.

The early evening is still home to Jupiter. Now transiting the meridian to the south in twilight, the giant planet sets around 10 PM, but around half an hour after Mars rises, so the sky does not become completely planetless (excluding dim Uranus and Neptune). The red planet then rides the eastern sky for most of the remainder of the night, not transiting the meridian until close to 5 AM. During our period, Mars moves from eastern Cancer into Western Leo to the west-northwest of Regulus. In between, look for the rising of Saturn around 1:30 AM, the ringed planet closely holding its position just to the northeast of the Autumnal equinox in Virgo. At the end of the story is Venus, which is now slipping into invisibility as it slowly becomes lost to bright twilight.

As Cygnus (the Swan, with Deneb) and Lyra (the Harp, with Vega) move steadily, night after night, into the evening northwestern skies, Perseus (the Hero who rescued Andromeda from dim Cetus) and Auriga (the Charioteer, with bright Capella) climb oppositely into the northeastern heavens. In a ragged triangle to the south of the two snorts Taurus (the Bull, with orange Aldebaran). Toward the east find Gemini with Castor and Pollux, all of them focused on bright Orion (the Hunter, with Betelgeuse and Rigel).
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