Status Report

The Sky This Week 23-30 May 2003

By SpaceRef Editor
May 26, 2003
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The Moon wanes in the pre-dawn sky this week. New Moon occurs on the 31st at 12:20 Eastern Daylight Time. Shortly before this time a most extraordinary solar eclipse occurs in the north polar regions. Most of northern Russia, Scandinavia, extreme northern Canada and Alaska will see varying degrees of a partial eclipse, but residents of the northern tip of Scotland, Iceland, and parts of Greenland will see an annular eclipse that takes place just above the northern horizon in what could be considered the middle of the night in local time. The Moon’s shadow will also appear to move from east to west, a highly unusual circumstance. Another very curious aspect is that the southern limit of the annular phase is actually geographically closer to the north pole. This eclipse seems to be all topsy-turvy!

Those of us who can’t get to Iceland for the eclipse must be content to watch the waning crescent Moon disappear into the morning twilight for the duration of the week. Look for her slender arc to the right of bright Venus on the morning of the 28th.

Back in the evening sky, Saturn takes his final bows in the western sky as twilight fades. The ringed planet has delighted us for the past several months, and his time is now just about up. By the end of the week he sets before the end of evening twilight, closing the book on what has been a wonderful season of dazzling telescopic views. I’ll look forward to welcoming him back to the night sky later this fall.

Jupiter is also slipping lower into the twilight each evening, but he still has several weeks to entertain us in the evening sky. He’s still high enough by 9:00 pm to train the telescope for a decent look in a dark sky, but by 11:00 he’s getting low enough to suffer the blurring effects of earth’s turbulent atmosphere. He will follow Saturn’s lead and disappear into the twilight glow in another month.

Ruddy Mars is now an easy sight in the pre-dawn sky. At 5:00 am he’s well up in the south, and this week finds him grinding his way toward the tail of Capricornus, the Sea-Goat. He will soon enter the bounds of Aquarius, where he will spend the summer lazily looping his way among the faint stars of this obscure constellation. Mars is now the brightest object in the morning sky, and his distinctive pinkish glow should make identifying him a snap. By the time he reaches opposition, we’ll have forgotten all about the splendors of Jupiter and Saturn!

SpaceRef staff editor.