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Astronomy

29 Sep 2020
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October presents two full moons, on the first and last day of month, as well as Venus in a close pairing with Regulus before dawn on Oct. 2 and 3; a close approach and the peak brilliance of Mars; Jupiter closing in on Saturn; and four close pairings of the moon with bright planets. Mars, visible during nearly all of October’s nighttime hours, presents its closest and brightest (peak magnitude -2.6) approach to Earth until 2035. Mars reaches its least distance of 38.57 million miles from Earth (light travel time: 3 minutes, 27 seconds) on Oct. 6, and reaches opposition on Oct. 13, as Earth overtakes the red planet. Mars even outshines Jupiter for most of month. On Oct. 13, it’s early summer in Mars’ southern hemisphere, and little remains of the south polar cap, since the warmth of the sun has caused most of the cap’s frozen carbon dioxide…
31 Aug 2020
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Venus, the brightest planet, and ruddy Mars dominate September’s predawn mornings. Bright Jupiter and nearby Saturn float in the southern sky at nightfall, while creeping slightly closer together. Mars doubles in brilliance for the second consecutive month—and will outshine Jupiter by late September—while the red planet’s rising time shifts two hours earlier, into evening twilight. Do you enjoy watching moonrises? During Sept. 1-7, the moon rises no more than 30 minutes later on each successive evening. Notice the moon’s reddened color and flattened shape at each moonrise; the moon’s decreasing phase from one day to the next; and the northward shift of its rising place from day to day, from the full moon’s rise at 7:23 p.m. on Sept. 1, through the 70-percent full moon’s rise at 10:13 p.m. on Sept. 7. Note bright Mars less than a degree above the rising moon on evening of Sept. 5. They’re still…
30 Jul 2020
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August’s planetary scene features giants in tandem in the evening—and four very close pairings of the moon with the three brightest planets. The Perseid meteor shower, somewhat diminished by moonlight this year, peaks in predawn on Aug. 12. Going camping? The best evenings for viewing the Milky Way from dark sites 90 minutes to three hours after sunset are Aug. 9-21. Bright Jupiter in the southeast to south-southeast at dusk, and Saturn about 8 degrees to its east, are an attractive pair for evening telescopic observation. Views of Jupiter’s cloud belts and four bright satellites, and Saturn’s spectacular rings, always inspire. Jupiter will be near the moon; on Aug. 1, just before sunset, using binoculars, try to see Jupiter in the daytime, within 3.2 degrees to the upper right of the moon. An hour after sunset, they’re easy to see with the unaided eye, 3.6 degrees apart. On the next…

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