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Astronomy

30 Apr 2019
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A thin crescent moon low in the west-northwest at dusk on May 5 marks the start of Ramadan, with a month-long daytime fast beginning the next day. Nearly two weeks later, a “blue moon”—the third of four full moons within the season—is visible through all nighttime hours of May 18. Late in the month, bright Jupiter begins rising in southeast during early evening hours. The May evening twilight chart shows that Rigel, Aldebaran, Sirius and Betelgeuse disappear this month, leaving four winter stars—Procyon, Pollux, Castor and Capella—forming an arch in the western sky through month’s end, when Mercury is just starting an evening appearance very low in the west-northwest. Regulus in Leo crosses high in the south into the west-southwest. Golden zero-magnitude Arcturus rises high in the eastern sky, with blue-white first-magnitude Spica in Virgo to its lower right. Zero-magnitude Vega, the brightest member of the Summer Triangle and first…
28 Mar 2019
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My lifelong interest in sky-watching began in the school year 1951-52, a year after our sixth-grade teacher led us to create a mural of the solar system, with the planet sizes to scale. When I was in seventh-grade, our school library included two books which really changed my life: A Dipper Full of Stars, by Lou Williams Page, originally published by in 1944—and revised and republished as a California state textbook in 1959! The other book was The Friendly Stars, by Martha Evans Martin, published in 1907. On the first page of A Dipper Full of Stars is a quote from Harlan T. Stetson’s Man and the Stars: “To acquire some appreciation of the meaning of the skies, one must make the friendship of the stars; watch their majestic march through the night, and the slow seasonal advance of constellation after constellation from east to west throughout the year. To…
27 Feb 2019
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In March 2019, early risers can enjoy a widening panorama of planets in the southeast quadrant of the sky—from the lower left to the upper right, one hour before sunrise, they are Venus, Saturn and Jupiter. A waning moon adds its beauty to this section of the sky through March 2, and again March 26 through April 2. Moon pairings with bright Jupiter, the westernmost of the three planets, occur on Feb. 27 and March 27. Since Saturn is currently 26 degrees (two days of moon travel) east of Jupiter, the moon will pass Saturn on March 1 and 29. Venus, the easternmost of the three planets and the brightest, is rapidly moving eastward, so Venus’ pairings with the moon occur on March 2 and on April 2. After March, Coachella Valley residents won’t catch Venus in a dark sky (in the absence of twilight) again until mid-November, after the…

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