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Astronomy Picture of the Day

Ara and Scorpius

Photo of the Week.. The bright stars of southern Scorpius preside over the Texas landscape. The bright collection to upper left is the cluster Messier 7. Between Scorpius and the horizon lies the constellation Ara, the Altar, whose southern stars are highly reddened by the thick Earth's atmosphere. Photo by Chris Grohusko.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, November 22, 2002.

Our Moon wanes through its gibbous phase the early part of the week, and passes its third quarter on Wednesday, November 27, within the confines of the constellation Leo just northeast of Regulus, when it rises around 11 PM, rendering it easily visible during the morning daylight hours.

The night of Monday, the 25th, the Moon will pass four degrees to the north of Jupiter around midnight, the giant planet hovering between Cancer and Leo and rising around 10 PM. Saturn is better placed for evening viewing, coming up above the horizon between Taurus and Gemini just after 6 PM. For a real show, you have to wait until morning, when Venus lofts herself above the southeastern horizon, the planet now terribly obvious and rising just after 4 AM. A telescope will show Venus to be a thin crescent, as the planet is still more or less between us and the Sun, which allows us only a small view of its daytime side. Even higher-power binoculars will reveal the crescent, much as they will show Jupiter's four large moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto, the latter two roughly the size of the planet Mercury. Venus is so very bright that in a dark site it will cast shadows and is visible in full daylight, so long as the sky is brilliantly blue and clear. Surprisingly, so is Jupiter, but just marginally, and only under the very best of conditions with a fine pair of eyes.

As the Earth goes around the Sun, the Sun appears to trek its ecliptic path and pass through the famed constellations of the Zodiac. They are of very different angular sizes, and the Sun appears projected against them for quite different time periods. The Sun takes well over a month to span Virgo, while it is in Scorpius for a mere 6 days, during this week from Saturday the 23rd to Friday the 29th, rendering the constellation and its surroundings quite invisible. Though you cannot see them, Sagittarius will be to the left of the Sun, Libra to the right. Far to the south of the Sun will be one of the most southerly of all the ancient constellations, Ara, the Altar, upon which Scorpius seems to rest. Oddly, the Sun is within the modern confines of a non-Zodiacal constellation far longer than it is in Scorpius, as it traverses Ophiuchus between November 29 and December 18. Scorpius has now been replaced at night by great Orion, whose brilliant stars are now rising in mid-evening, with Canis Major and wonderful sparkling Sirius soon to follow.
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