Last updateFri, 16 Sep 2016 12pm


27 Feb 2017
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This month’s selection of happenings includes the last evening and first morning appearances of Venus; the year’s most favorable apparition of Mercury; early evening moonrises; simultaneous views of planets low above opposite horizons (Mars-Jupiter and Mercury-Jupiter in the evening, with Venus-Jupiter in the morning); and a bright, far southern star, Canopus, reaching its high point very low over our southern mountains. Venus is still very prominent in the evening sky as this month opens, setting in a dark sky 2 1/2 hours after sunset on March 1. By March 17, Venus sets just one hour after sunset, and by March 21, Venus drops below the horizon barely half an hour after sunset. By that date, Venus is already rising ahead of the sun, and it’s possible to observe it at both dusk and dawn for a few days. Through a telescope or even 7-power binoculars, the planet displays a crescent—best…
31 Jan 2017
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Venus reaches peak brilliance, near magnitude -4.9, in February’s evening sky—giving rise to lots of UFO reports! Through a telescope or even 7-power binoculars, the planet displays an ever-larger and thinner crescent, especially if viewed in daytime or at sunset. Venus appears 39 percent full and a half-arcminute across on Feb. 1, and only 17 percent full and 0.8 arcminute across by Feb. 28. (One arcminute equals 1/60th of a degree.) Try locating Venus in daylight when it’s highest and due south: On Sunday, Feb. 5, Venus is 59 degrees up at 2:44 p.m.; Feb. 12, 62 degrees up at 2:32 p.m.; Feb. 19, 65 degrees up at 2:16 p.m.; Feb. 26, and 67 degrees up at 1:55 p.m. Find Venus easily with the unaided eye by sunset or shortly thereafter, 45 degrees to the sun’s upper left, on Feb. 1, to 33 degrees directly above the setting sun on…
31 Dec 2016
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In January, Venus dominates the evenings! Find it in the southwest to west-southwest, with Mars to its upper left. In the west to west-northwest, find the Summer Triangle of Vega, Altair and Deneb. Vega is its brightest member, and Altair is the first to depart, around mid-month, if mountains don’t block your view. Fomalhaut, to the lower left of the two planets, may be easily overlooked. The eastern sky is filling up with winter’s jewels! The “Dog Star” blue-white Sirius (the brightest star) and the Little Dog Star Procyon, preceding it, rise into view below Orion’s bright shoulder, red Betelgeuse, and bright foot, blue Rigel. (Sirius, Procyon and Betelgeuse form the nearly equilateral Winter Triangle.) Follow Orion’s belt downward to Sirius, and upward to orange Aldebaran, eye of Taurus, the Bull. To the left of Orion, look for Pollux (with Castor, 4.5 degrees away). Midway between Orion’s belt and the…

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