Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, December 4, 1998.

The Moon passes through its last quarter this week on Thursday, December 10 in eastern Leo. Earlier, the night of Tuesday, the 8th, the Moon will make a close pass to the south of the first magnitude star Regulus in Leo, and will actually cover or occult the star in Florida and Central America. Observers in southern Georgia will see a remarkable "grazing occultation" at 11:20 PM EST, in which the star just barely seems to touch the lunar edge.

The major planets are well spread across the sky. Venus is still hidden by the Sun, but Jupiter makes up for it with its evening brilliance. Transiting the meridian to the south around 6 PM, the planet is now moving in its normal easterly direction among the stars of extreme eastern Aquarius. Only 30 or so degrees to the east of Jupiter, find dimmer, though still zeroth magnitude, Saturn, moving oppositely, or retrograde, against the background of extreme eastern Pisces, the next zodiacal constellation over. The next player is Mars. Now in western Virgo, Mars rises around 1:30 AM and appears high in the southeast near dawn.

Great Orion, the classic winter constellation that now crosses to the south around midnight, is linked in mythology to his two hunting dogs, Canis Major, lit by brilliant Sirius down and to the left of Orion, and less-prominent Canis Minor, illuminated by dimmer, though first magnitude, Procyon up and to the left of Orion's top bright star Betelgeuse. Far lesser known are the constellations beneath Orion. Just below the Hunter find two ragged lines of dimmer stars looking something like an old- fashioned box kite, which represent Orion's prey, Lepus the Hare. About 15 degrees below Lepus, if you have a clear southern horizon, look for the "modern" constellation Columba, the Dove. Invented around the beginning of the 17th century, Columba is a very pretty flat triangle of stars that stands out in an otherwise blank area of sky and represents Noah's dove. Much farther down, and visible only from latitudes south of about 35 degrees north, lies the sky's second brightest star Canopus, in Carina, the Keel of the great ship Argo, which carried Jason in his search for the golden fleece.
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