Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, November 20, 1998.

The Moon waxes through its crescent phase this week, reaching first quarter the night of Thursday, the 26th, about 6 PM when it stands high to the south near the celestial meridian, exactly 90 degrees to the east of the Sun and a bit to the west of brilliant Jupiter, which, except for the Moon, dominates the evening skies.

The Leonid shower is now over, a nice but not spectacular display seen in North America. There is still a possibility of seeing a Leonid display next year as we pass the orbit of Comet Temple- Tuttle on November 17. However, Jupiter's gravity is expected to shift the location of the meteoroid stream such that we will not see it in 2029, when it would again be expected. The next significant shower will be the Geminids, which run from December 6 to December 19, peaking on December 13 and 14. This fine shower, while nothing like the Leonids at their peak, typically produces over one per minute and is associated with an object called 3200 Phaeton. Once thought to be an asteroid, Phaeton seems now clearly to be a defunct comet. The number of annual meteor showers is greatly underappreciated, over 110 recognized. Many, however, produce only a few meteors per night and require dedicated observation. Others occur only in daylight and can be observed only by radar, the radio signals bouncing off the ionization trails made by the heated meteoroids as they slam through the atmosphere.

The winter constellations are now climbing the eastern sky in late evening, Orion nicely up by 10 PM, his bright three-star belt riding the celestial equator, reddish Betelgeuse to the upper left of it, Rigel to the lower right. Look too for Capella climbing the northeastern sky. The sixth brightest star as seen from Earth, Capella is the first magnitude star closest to the north celestial pole, marked by Polaris. The closest of first magnitude to the south celestial pole is Alpha Centauri, coincidentally the closest star to the Earth, unfortunately invisible from latitudes above 30 degrees north. Capella is the luminary of the constellation Auriga, the Charioteer, made by a rough pentagon of stars. On a dark night you can see the Milky Way pass dimly through the southern part of the constellation, the celestial stream filled with clusters and dark clouds that are spawning stars.
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