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Last updateFri, 03 Apr 2020 5pm

Robert Victor

From early March through early June 2016, the Earth will overtake all three bright outer planets within just 87 days, with each planet reaching peak brilliance and all-night visibility: Jupiter in early March; Mars in late May; and Saturn in early June.

For several months following these oppositions, each respective planet will remain conveniently visible in the evening sky … at last!

What does opposition mean? When at opposition as seen from Earth, a planet appears at or nearly 180 degrees from the sun, and appears on the opposite side of the sky from where the sun is located. Thus, the planet will be up all night: low in the eastern sky at dusk, high in the south in the middle of the night, and low in the western sky at dawn. Near the date of its opposition, a planet reaches its closest approach to Earth, and its peak in brilliance.

For several weeks through late February, early risers enjoyed a wide panorama of all five naked-eye planets across the morning sky. Nine folks joined us for our viewing on Feb. 7 to revel in views of five planets, Jupiter’s moons and Saturn’s rings, and a rising old crescent moon just 24 1/2 hours before new. Thanks for coming out!

We’re now starting to offer informal Impromptu Sky Watches or Neighborhood Mini Star Parties. Most will occur in the evening. Check this story for some listings. Hope to see you there!

Mornings in early March: If the mountains don’t block your view, it’s still possible to catch Venus low in the east-southeast, and Jupiter low in the west simultaneously, while Saturn, with brighter reddish Mars nearby to its right, adorns the southern sky. Between Mars-Saturn and a little lower, look for the reddish star Antares, heart of the Scorpion. The light of Antares is more noticeably affected by Earth’s atmosphere, causing it (and other stars) to twinkle.

In the mornings as March progresses, Venus and Jupiter sink toward opposite horizons, with Venus heading toward its June 6 superior conjunction on the far side of the sun, and Jupiter reaching opposition to the sun on the morning of March 8 as Earth overtakes it. That morning, with Jupiter in the west, the sun below the eastern horizon, and Saturn in the south just more than 90 degrees west of the sun, we can visualize our counterclockwise revolution around the sun and the forward motion of our Spaceship Earth toward Saturn. Venus, moving faster, is leaving us behind, and we are passing Jupiter, causing it to drop from sight in our right (west) window.

March evenings: Theyare rich with bright stars and planets. Jupiter, rising in the east, is the first of several planets to grace the sky at dusk in coming months. Dog-walkers and others out and about regularly at dusk will be rewarded with many striking astronomical sights this spring. At dusk on March 7 (early during the night of Jupiter’s opposition), we have the sun below our western horizon, and Jupiter visible in the east. Now we’re looking out the rear window of Spaceship Earth. On March 7, we’re moving away from a point in Taurus, about 8 degrees east-northeast of Aldebaran. Faster-moving Mercury will emerge from beyond the sun and have the year’s most favorable evening apparition in the western sky at dusk in April, before it transits the sun on May 9.

Our charts depict the sky at mid-twilight, which we define as the moment when the sun is 9 degrees below the horizon. During March, in the Coachella Valley, mid-twilight occurs about 40 minutes before sunrise (effectively concluding your sky watch, as stars and planets fade in the brightening dawn), or 40 minutes after sunset (a fine time to start your evening viewing, as stars and planets become easier to find in the fading light of dusk).

Sky events in morning twilight

March 1: The moon, just more than half full in the south, is approaching last-quarter phase. Mars is 9 degrees to the lower right. Saturn is 9 degrees to the lower left, with Antares 9 degrees below the moon and nearly 9 degrees to the lower right of Saturn.

March 2: The moon is 4-5 degrees to the upper left of Saturn.

March 3: Venus and Jupiter are 150 degrees apart.

March 7: The old moon, about 1.5 days before new, is visible near Venus for the last time in the planet’s morning apparition; Look 4 degrees to the left of Venus.

March 8: Jupiter is at opposition! Spaceship Earth now overtakes the giant planet. We are heading about 2 degrees left of Saturn. As we follow our curved orbit around the sun, we will overtake Mars on night of May 21-22, and Saturn on night of June 2-3.

March 9: Mars and Saturn are 15 degrees apart.

March 23: Before Jupiter sets, the three bright outer planets, in order from west to east—Jupiter, Mars and Saturn—span 90 degrees.

March 27: Mars and Saturn are 10 degrees apart. They’ll be separated by no more than 10 degrees through May 12, and will be as close as 7.2 degrees apart April 16-23.

Sky events in evening twilight

March 7: Jupiter is at opposition tonight as Spaceship Earth overtakes it. We are now moving away from a point in Taurus about 8 degrees east of Aldebaran.

March 9: The first waxing crescent moon, age 24-25 hours is low, 3-4 degrees south of west.

March 13: The moon is below the Hyades star cluster and Aldebaran at dusk.

March 14: The moon is east of Aldebaran at dusk.

March 15: The moon is north of Betelgeuse at dusk.

March 17: The moon is east of the Pollux-Procyon line at dusk.

March 19: The moon is to the upper right of Regulus at dusk. Spring begins at 9:30 p.m.! A Star Party is hosted by Astronomical Society of the Desert; www.astrorx.org

March 20: The moon is to the lower right of Regulus at dusk.

March 21: The moon is 2 degrees south of Jupiter, now 165 degrees from the sun, at dusk. Note the moon’s phase as it passes Jupiter in the evening sky every 27-28 days this spring and summer, until the last pairing, with a thin crescent moon, on Sept. 2.

March 23: Mercury is at superior conjunction, hidden on the far side of the sun. In 7-10 days, using binoculars half an hour after sunset, try to find it very low in the bright twilight glow, north of west. In first three weeks of April, Mercury will be easy to find with the unaided eye.

Resources

A YouTube video showing a view of the morning twilight sky from mid-October 2015 until early March 2016, followed by a view of the evening twilight sky from early March through late October 2016, is available here.

Illustrations of aforementioned events appear in the Sky Calendar. For a sample issue and subscription information, visit www.abramsplanetarium.org/skycalendar.

The Astronomical Society of the Desert will host a star party on Saturday, March 19, from 7-10 p.m., at the Visitor Center of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument. Get info on future star parties, with directions and maps to the two sites, as well as news on lectures and special events, at www.astrorx.org

Robert C. Victor was a staff astronomer at Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs. Robert D. Miller, who provided the twilight charts and the planet orbit charts, did graduate work in Planetarium Science and later astronomy and computer science at Michigan State University and remains active in research and public outreach in astronomy.

Join us for Impromptu Sky Watches, or Neighborhood Mini-Star Parties, to be held in a neighborhood, park or at a school by one or more members of the Astronomical Society of the Desert!

The purpose is to observe a fairly unusual but eye-pleasing astronomical event we’d like to share with others. The event might be a very thin crescent moon in morning or evening twilight, or it could be a rare gathering of celestial bodies. A close pair of planets, or a planet and a star, or the moon and a planet or bright star, may trigger our desire to share the experience of viewing the event. Sometimes, a sky watch might be arranged to see a very favorable pass of the International Space Station across our local skies, or just to enjoy a moonrise over our scenic mountain horizon.

If you’d like to join us for one or more of these Impromptu Sky Watches, or if you want to observe the event on your own, visit astrorx.org for more information. Of course, the Sky Watch would be cancelled if clouds interfere. We’ll often wait until just a few days before the event to make an announcement, to obtain a more accurate forecast of whether the sky is likely to be clear.

The locations of Sky Watches will be:

1: In Palm Springs, on the sidewalk along the east side of Farrell Drive, within 300 feet north of the golf-cart crossing just north of Mesquite Avenue. We’ll be overlooking the golf course on both sides of Farrell Drive.

2: In Palm Springs, on the pedestrian bridge crossing over Tahquitz Creek, at Camino Real between north and south Riverside drives, three blocks north of Cahuilla Elementary School.

3: In Desert Hot Springs. The exact location has not yet determined, and will be announced at astrorx.org. Desert Hot Springs, and other places far east in the Coachella Valley where high mountains don’t obstruct the view of the western horizon, are better places for viewing phenomena low in the west, such as a young crescent moon or evening appearances of the planet Mercury.

Moonrise Watches: Join us, if the sky is clear, by arriving at location No. 2 in time for moonrise at the following dates and times:

Monday, Feb. 22 at 5:51 p.m. (just past full)

Tuesday, Feb. 23 at 6:46 p.m.

Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 7:40 p.m.

Old moon watch, on the last two mornings to see the thin old crescent moon in this lunar cycle: On Sunday, March 6, and Monday March 7, during 5:10-5:40 a.m., we’ll be at site No. 2 to watch for the rising of Venus and the crescent moon. On Saturday, Venus will be 10-11 degrees to the lower left of the moon. On Sunday, look for Venus 4 degrees to the right of the old moon, just over 1.5 days before new. This is the last easy chance to view the moon and Venus close together during Venus’ current morning appearance, which began late in August 2015.

Young moon watch, on the first evening to see the thin young moon of the new lunar cycle: On Wednesday, March 9, arrive to site No. 3 at 6:10 p.m. to catch the young crescent moon only 8 degrees up, just south of due west, while Jupiter, almost in the opposite direction in the sky from the sun, is 7 degrees up in east. The moon will be just more than 24 hours old.

Moon near two star clusters in Taurus: On Sunday, March 13, join us at site No. 2 at 7:45 p.m. to enjoy views of the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters, and the star Aldebaran, eye of Taurus, the Bull, near the fat crescent moon.

Moon near Jupiter: On Monday, March 21, sunset occurs at 6:59 p.m. On your own, using binoculars, can you spot Jupiter to the moon’s upper left before then? You’re welcome to join us at site No. 2 at 8 p.m. for views of this pairing of Moon and our solar system’s largest planet, and of stars of winter and early spring.

Moonrise watches: Join us, if the sky is clear, by arriving at site No. 2 in time for moonrise at the following dates and times:

Wednesday, March 23, at 7:26 p.m. (just past full)

Thursday, March 24, at 8:19 p.m.

Friday, March 25, at 9:12 p.m.

Young crescent moon and Mercury: Join us on Friday, Apr. 8 at site No. 3 by 7:45 p.m. As the sky darkens, we’ll enjoy a wonderful view of a young crescent moon an easy 39 hours old, with earthshine on its non-sunlit side, and Mercury shining within 9 degrees to its lower right. Jupiter will gleam well up in the east-southeast.

Moon and Aldebaran: For those who’d like to try to witness this daytime event on their own with a telescope, watch Aldebaran get covered by the dark side of the moon on Sunday afternoon, April 10, at 2:24 p.m., and reappear at the moon’s sunlit edge at 3:46 p.m. If you’d like to join us at site No. 2 at 8:15 p.m., we’ll check how far the moon has crept away from the star, and we’ll tour the April evening sky.

Robert C. Victor was a staff astronomer at Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs.

For much of February, early risers will continue to enjoy all five bright planets before dawn, as the waning moon sweeps past all of them through Feb. 6. In its next trip around Earth, the moon will go past four planets from Feb. 24 through March 7.

February’s evening mid-twilight occurs about 40 minutes after sunset from our latitude. Sirius is the brightest object plotted on our evening chart until very late in the month, when Jupiter appears above the horizon just north of due east.

Sirius and Capella are the southern and northern vertices and brightest members of the huge Winter Hexagon, with a seventh star, Betelgeuse, inside. Regulus and Jupiter follow the Hexagon across the sky. But you needn’t wait until the month is almost over to see Regulus and Jupiter; just look later in the evening. By Feb. 18, Regulus is at opposition and visible all night—note it is shown on both charts—while Jupiter rises just after the end of twilight, some 1 1/2 hours after sunset. Jupiter will be at opposition on the night of March 7-8, as Earth passes between that planet and the sun.

After Sirius, the next-brightest star is Canopus. At the end of February, both stars climb to their highest points, due south, very soon after the end of evening twilight. From Palm Springs, Canopus at its best stands just 3 degrees above the horizon.Select a site where mountains south of you don’t block your view.

As for the aforementioned Solar System Extravaganza: Within a 12-day interval, from Jan. 27 through Feb. 6, the moon passes all the naked-eye planets in the morning sky.

To provide a chance for locals to view this unusual lineup of the moon and five planets with the unaided eye, binoculars and telescope, I will hold five predawn sky watches, if the sky is clear. The sessions will be held on the following dates: Sunday, Jan. 31; Monday, Feb. 1; Wednesday, Feb. 3; Saturday, Feb. 6; and Sunday, Feb. 7. All five watches will be held in Palm Springs, from 5:15 until 6 a.m., on the pedestrian bridge crossing over Tahquitz Creek, at Camino Real between north and south Riverside drives, three blocks north of Cahuilla Elementary School.

After posing near Jupiter on Jan. 27 and 28, and just 4 degrees north of Spica on Jan. 30, the moon continues eastward, passing four more planets Feb. 1-6,while Mercury and Venus draw closer to each other.

On Feb. 1, Mars appears within 3 degrees to the lower right of the moon, now just past last-quarter phase and just less than half full. An hour before sunrise on Feb. 1, five bright planets, Mercury-Venus-Saturn-Mars-Jupiter, in order from east-southeast to west-southwest, span 115 degrees.

On Feb. 3, Saturn appears 4 degrees below the moon. Antares appears 9 degrees to the lower right of the lunar crescent and 8 degrees to the lower right of Saturn.

On Feb. 5, Venus appears within 9 degrees to the moon’s lower left.

On Feb. 6, look for Mercury within 5 degrees to the lower left of Venus and 3 degrees to the lower right of a thin crescent moon, only 5 percent full and just more than two days before new. This morning, the five naked-eye planets span an angle of 120 degrees across our sky, one-third of the way around the circle of the zodiac.

On the morning of Feb. 7, Spaceship Earth is carrying us toward the planet Mars. Our faster-moving home planet will overtake the red planet in late May. Watch about 40-45 minutes before sunrise this morning for a last, very thin old crescent moon, about 2 percent full, just risen in the east-southeast, about 17 degrees to the lower left of Venus and 13 degrees to the lower left of Mercury. New moon, invisible near the sun, occurs on Feb. 8 at 6:39 a.m. PST.

Back to the evening sky: During Feb. 9-22, track the waxing moon at dusk, within an hour after sunset. The first crescent, only 3 percent full, will be seen very low, 10-15 degrees south of west in evening twilight, on Tuesday, Feb. 9, some 36 hours after the new moon. The moon reaches first quarter, half full, on Sunday evening, Feb. 14. An occultation of Aldebaran, eye of Taurus, will take place on the next night. Find that bright star a few degrees east of the moon at dusk on Monday, Feb. 15, and watch the moon narrow the gap until the star disappears behind the moon’s dark side at 1:05 a.m. on Feb. 16, not long before they set. From the Coachella Valley, the moon will be only 4 degrees above the horizon, so choose your viewing site with that in mind.

The waxing gibbous moon will leapfrog over a line joining Pollux and Procyon a few nights later, between the evenings of Feb. 18 and 19. Passing full, the moon will skip past Regulus, heart of Leo, the Lion, in the eastern evening sky, from Feb. 21 to 22. The moon rises some 40 minutes before sunset on the 21st, and just a quarter-hour after sunset on the 22nd. On the 23rd, the moon still rises in twilight some 70 minutes after sunset, a few degrees to the lower right of bright Jupiter. Over the next week, the moon rises 50-55 minutes later each night, and soon can no longer be viewed at a convenient early evening hour. So, back to predawn viewing!

Follow the moon Feb. 22-March 7 by shifting your viewing time back to morning twilight, about one hour before sunrise. On Feb. 22, catch Regulus just 3 degrees north (to the upper right) of the full moon in the western sky an hour before sunrise.

On Feb. 24, look for bright Jupiter about 5 degrees to the lower right of the waning gibbous moon. On Feb. 26, catch Spica 6 degrees to the moon’s lower left. As previously mentioned, on the morning of Feb. 27, six solar system bodies span 150 degrees across the sky. In order from west to east-southeast, locate Jupiter, the moon, Mars, Saturn, Venus, and possibly Mercury, just more than 6 degrees to the lower left of Venus. Binoculars can give you final views of the innermost planet before it slips into bright twilight on its way toward the far side of the sun.

Illustrations of events mentioned above appear in the Sky Calendar. For a sample issue, visit www.abramsplanetarium.org/skycalendar.

The Astronomical Society of the Desert will host a star party on Saturday, Feb. 13, at dusk at the Visitor Center of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument. Dates of future star parties, with directions and maps to the sites and info on lectures and special events, are available at www.astrorx.org.

Robert C. Victor was a staff astronomer at Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs. Robert D. Miller, who provided the twilight charts and the planet orbit charts, did graduate work in planetarium science and later astronomy and computer science at Michigan State University and remains active in research and public outreach in astronomy.

From late January through most of February, early risers can enjoy all five bright planets before dawn. The waning moon sweeps past four of these planets Dec. 31-Jan. 7, and past all five Jan. 27-Feb. 6.

One hour before sunrise, find brilliant Venus in the southwest, with Saturn nearby to its upper right Jan. 1-8, and to the lower left thereafter. These two planets are 8 degrees apart on Jan. 1, closing to 5 degrees on Jan. 4. On two mornings, they’ll form a spectacular close pair in the same telescopic field, within 0.7 degrees, on Jan. 8, and 0.5 degrees on Jan. 9. They’re still within 4 degrees on Jan. 12, widening to 7 degrees on Jan. 15.

Each day, Venus goes east against background stars by just more than 1.2 degrees, while Saturn goes by only 0.1 degrees, and Mars goes east about 0.5 degrees. Watch Venus pass 6 degrees north of first-magnitude Antares, heart of the Scorpion, on Jan. 7, and 3 degrees north of a third-magnitude star marking the top of the Teapot of Sagittarius on Jan. 28. Steady Saturn is 6.3 degrees to 7.5 degrees from reddish twinkling Antares this month, and stays 6-9 degrees from that star throughout Saturn’s current apparition, which ends when the planet sinks into the evening twilight in November 2016.

Bright Jupiter, in the southwest to west-southwest an hour before sunup, barely moves against stars this month, but it will shift 10 degrees west over four months, Jan. 8 to May 9. This apparent temporary reversal of Jupiter’s motion is centered on the planet’s opposition and all-night visibility on the night of March 7-8. This retrograde motion is a consequence of the faster-moving Earth overtaking the giant planet.

Mars is in the south-southeast to south in this month’s morning sky, 6 degrees to 21 degrees east of Spica. On Feb. 1, Mars will pass 1.1 degrees north of third-magnitude Alpha in Libra. Once Mercury emerges from the sun’s glare in late January, all five naked-eye planets will be on display, in the order Me-Ve-Sa-Ma-Ju, in an impressive panorama across the southern morning sky. Mercury brightens from magnitude +1.2 to 0.0 at dawn in last 10 days of January, and continues to brighten into February.

Jupiter (magnitude -2.3 in mid-January) and Saturn (magnitude +0.5), with its ring system now tipped 26 degrees from edge-on, are favorites for telescopic viewing. They’re in the sky simultaneously mornings in the early months of 2016, and evenings from late spring into summer. Bright Venus (magnitude -4) in January shrinks to 0.2’ (arcminute) across, while increasing from 77 percent to 85 percent illuminated. Venus and Saturn appear within the same telescopic field on Jan. 8 and 9. Red Mars (magnitude +1.3 to +0.8) starts 2016 as a tiny disk 0.1’ across, nearly full. By opposition and closest approach in late May, Mars will triple in apparent size and match Jupiter in brilliance!

Follow the waning moon before dawn, near Jupiter, on Dec. 31, near Mars and Spica on Jan. 3, and near Venus, Saturn and Antares on Jan. 6 and 7.

Look for the moon within an hour after sunset each evening Jan. 10-23, as it waxes from crescent to full.

On Thursday, Jan. 14, Mercury is at inferior conjunction, as the planet goes between the Earth and the sun, while passing north of the solar disk.

In mid-January, the Summer Triangle of Vega-Altair-Deneb is visible at both dusk and dawn. Evenings, once Sirius has risen in the east-southeast, look for the Winter Hexagon of Sirius-Procyon-Pollux-Capella-Aldebaran-Rigel-Sirius, with Betelgeuse inside.

On Sunday and Monday, Jan. 17 and 18: Venus and Mars are 45 degrees apart in the morning sky. On Jan. 18, Ve-Sa-Ma-Ju span 90 degrees. Ma-Ju are 45 degrees apart.

Tuesday, Jan. 19: The moon’s leading dark edge, invisible in daylight, occults or covers Aldebaran, eye of Taurus the Bull, around sunset in the Coachella Valley. Times of star’s disappearance and reappearance for Palm Springs: 5:06 p.m. and 6:16 p.m. A telescope is best for viewing these events. After the star reappears, check at various times during the evening and watch the moon pull away from the star.

During Jan. 23-Feb. 7 in the morning sky, watch the waning moon go east against the zodiacal backdrop, posing near Regulus on Jan. 25 and 26, near Jupiter on Jan. 27 and 28, and just 4 degrees north of Spica on Jan. 30.

Illustrations of events mentioned above appear in the Sky Calendar. The sample excerpt on the next page depicts events such as the gathering of moon, Venus and Saturn on the mornings of Jan. 7-8. To subscribe, visit www.abramsplanetarium.org/skycalendar.

The Whitewater Preserve will host a star party on Saturday, Jan. 2, from 5 until 8:30 p.m. For information, call 760-325-7222.

To provide a chance for locals to view the unusual lineup of the moon and four or five planets, I will hold three predawn sky watches this month, if the sky is clear. The first will be held on the first clear morning of Wednesday, Jan. 6, or Thursday, Jan. 7, to view a compact gathering of the waning crescent moon with Venus and Saturn. The second will be held on the first clear morning of Friday, Jan. 8, or Saturday, Jan. 9, to view Venus and Saturn simultaneously within a telescope field. The third session will be held on the first clear morning of Sunday, Jan. 31, or Monday, Feb. 1, to view the lineup of all five naked-eye planets and the moon. All three watches will be held in Palm Springs, from 5:15 until 6 a.m., on the pedestrian bridge crossing over Tahquitz Creek, at Camino Real between north and south Riverside drives, three blocks north of Cahuilla Elementary School.

The Astronomical Society of the Desert will host a star party on Saturday, Jan. 16, at dusk at the Visitor Center of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument. More information is available at www.astrorx.org.

I will present a preview of sky events of 2016 on Friday, Jan. 29, at the Portola Community Center in Palm Desert. Socializing begins at 6:30 p.m., with the lecture at 7 p.m.

Robert C. Victor was a staff astronomer at Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs. Robert D. Miller, who provided the twilight charts and the planet orbit charts, did graduate work in planetarium science and later astronomy and computer science at Michigan State University and remains active in research and public outreach in astronomy.

In evening twilight in December, the Summer Triangle is well up in the west, getting lower as the month progresses. Its brightest member is blue-white Vega, at its northwest (lower right) corner. Altair marks the southern point of the Triangle, and Deneb the northeast corner, above Vega. Follow the Summer Triangle within the first hour after sunset until mid-January, when Altair sinks into the twilight glow.

Solitary Fomalhaut, marking the mouth of the Southern Fish, drifts low across the southern sky in December’s evening twilight. From late in December’s second week into early January, try to find Mercury very low in the southwestern twilight glow; binoculars make the search easier.

Yellowish Capella climbs in the northeast, while to its lower right, ascending in the east-northeast to east, we find red-orange Aldebaran, eye of Taurus the Bull. This star is at opposition to the sun each year around the start of December, so as we gaze at that star, we face almost directly away from the sun. Low in the east below Taurus, rising into view during twilight in late December, we find Orion’s two brightest stars: reddish Betelgeuse marking one shoulder, and blue-white Rigel marking his upraised foot. Robert Frost, in the opening lines of his poem “The Star Splitter,” described the scene: “You know Orion always comes up sideways. Throwing a leg up over our fence of mountains … .” Rising just a bit later from Southern California are Pollux and Castor above it, the bright stars of Gemini, the Twins.

In December’s morning twilight, Venus, in the southeast, ranks first in brilliance. Next is Jupiter, high in the southern sky. Third is twinkling Sirius before it sets in the west-southwest, and next is a nearly three-way tie between Arcturus very high in the east to southeast, Vega ascending in the northeast, and Capella sinking in the northwest.

Before Rigel sets south of west, look for the Winter Hexagon. In clockwise order beginning at Sirius, its other members are Procyon, Pollux (with Castor), Capella, Aldebaran, Rigel and back to Sirius, with Betelgeuse inside. At month’s end, all that remains of the Hexagon in morning twilight is an arch, in order from west to northwest: Procyon, Pollux (with Castor) and Capella.

Regulus marks the heart of Leo the Lion, chasing the Hexagon across the sky. Regulus is within 0.5 degrees north of the ecliptic (plane of Earth’s orbit). Following Regulus and in line with it is an almost straight lineup of the planets Jupiter, Mars and Venus, and finally Saturn, emerging in the southeast by the middle of December. Blue-white Spica, only 2 degrees south of the ecliptic, appears not far off the lineup of planets: Venus passed 4.2 degrees north of Spica on Nov. 29; contrastingly colored, dim, red Mars will pass 3.6 degrees north of that star on Dec. 23. By the latter date, Antares will have just emerged, some six degrees to the south (lower right) of Saturn.

One additional star appears on our December morning twilight chart: Deneb, rising in the far northeast late in the month, to the lower left of Vega.

Watch for these events:

Friday, Dec. 4, morning: Jupiter is 5 degrees to the upper right of the moon.

Saturday, Dec. 5, morning: Mars is 5-6 degrees to the lower left of the moon.

Sunday, Dec. 6, morning: Spica is five degrees to the lower right of the moon.

Monday, Dec. 7, morning: Spica is midway between Venus and Mars, 10 degrees from each. A spectacular close conjunction of the crescent moon and Venus occurs in morning twilight. Continue observing after sunrise and witness a daytime occultation of Venus by the moon. From Palm Springs, binoculars and telescopes show the leading sunlit edge of the moon covering Venus well up in the south-southeast to south at 8:09 a.m., with the trailing dark edge of moon (invisible in daylight) uncovering Venus well up in south-southwest at 9:59 a.m. Outside that interval, when Venus isn’t covered, this is a great chance to use the moon to help locate Venus in the daytime!Telescopes show Venus in gibbous phase.

I will hold three different sky watches, if the sky is clear, on the morning of Monday, Dec. 7: The first will be held from 5:15 to 5:45 a.m. to view the pairing in a dark sky before sunrise, as well to observe Jupiter, Mars and the bright stars; the next is from 8 until 8:10 a.m., to watch the bright edge of the moon cover Venus; and the last is from 9:55 to 10:05 a.m., to watch the invisible dark edge of the moon uncover Venus. All three watches will be held in Palm Springs, on the pedestrian bridge crossing over Tahquitz Creek, at Camino Real between North and South Riverside drives, three blocks north of Cahuilla Elementary School.

After Dec. 7, the waning moon can be followed for two or three additional mornings. On Thursday, Dec. 10, 40 minutes before sunup, try for the very thin old crescent, only 20-21 hours before new, very low in the east-southeast. Binoculars will be helpful for spotting it, and possibly emerging Saturn, rising within 3 degrees to the moon’s lower right.

Also watch for Saturn 6.2 degrees north of Antares (the minimum distance) on Monday, Dec. 21; Mars 3.6 degrees north of Spica (the minimum distance) on Wednesday, Dec. 23; and the moon 3 degrees to the lower right of Jupiter on the year’s final day.

Illustrations of these events appear in the Sky Calendar. For more information, visit www.abramsplanetarium.org/skycalendar.

The Astronomical Society of the Desert will host a star party on Saturday, Dec. 5, at dusk at Saw Mill Trailhead, at elevation 4,000 feet in the Santa Rosa Mountains. The society also hosts monthly star parties at the more conveniently located Visitor Center of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument; the next is on Saturday, Dec. 19, from 5 to 8 p.m. Get more information at www.astrorx.org.

Robert C. Victor was a staff astronomer at Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs. Robert D. Miller, who provided the twilight charts and the planet orbit charts, did graduate work in Planetarium Science and later astronomy and computer science at Michigan State University and remains active in research and public outreach in astronomy.

In evening twilight during November, the holdover Summer Triangle, with its brightest member blue-white Vega at its northwest corner, drifts slowly westward from nearly overhead. Meanwhile, lonely Fomalhaut, mouth of the Southern Fish, moves from southeast toward the south. Bright Arcturus departs in the west-northwest, making way for almost equally bright Capella, rising in the northeast. Very low in the southwest to west-southwest, if mountains don’t block your view, Saturn and Antares (8 degrees to the planet’s left) are accessible with binoculars early in the month, before their departure.

Aldebaran, eye of Taurus the Bull, is at opposition as Earth passes between that star and the sun each year around Dec. 1; look for a reddish star rising in the east-northeast during twilight in late November. Arabic in origin, the name Aldebaran means the follower, alluding to the star’s pursuit of the Pleiades or Seven Sisters star cluster across the sky.

In November’s morning twilight, Venus, in the east to southeast, easily ranks first in brilliance. Next is Jupiter, climbing 6 to 34 degrees to Venus’ upper right and almost reaching south. The next dozen slots are taken by stars, headed by Sirius in the southwest, Arcturus climbing in the east-northeast to east, and Capella well up in the northwest. Sirius and Capella mark the southern and northern vertices of the Winter Hexagon. In clockwise order beginning at Sirius, its other members are Procyon, Pollux (with Castor), Capella, Aldebaran, Rigel and back to Sirius, with Betelgeuse inside. Regulus, heart of Leo the Lion, reaches its high point in the south while chasing the Hexagon across the sky. Following Regulus is the line of planets—Jupiter, Mars and Venus—and finally Spica, spike of grain in Virgo, rising up from low in the east-southeast to well up in the southeast. In late November and early December, watch for the rising of Vega far to the northeast. From its appearance until Rigel sets in west-southwest, 11 stars of first magnitude or brighter are visible, along with the three planets.

The moon and planets form spectacular gatherings, especially early in the month. Watch for these events:

  • Tuesday, Nov. 3, morning (about one hour before sunrise): Venus passes Mars. Look for the faint red planet just 0.7 degrees north (to the upper left) of brilliant Venus.
  • Friday, Nov. 6, morning: Jupiter is about 2 degrees north (to the upper left) of the moon. Venus is 10 degrees to the moon’s lower left. Mars is 1.6 degrees to the upper right of Venus.
  • Saturday, Nov. 7, morning: Venus is 1.7 degrees, with Mars 3.5 degrees, to the upper left of the moon. Venus and Mars are 2.1 degrees apart. Let the moon help you find Venus again after sunrise, and you’ll have a daytime sighting!
  • Monday, Nov. 9: Spica is within 4 degrees to the south (lower right) of the moon. Mars-Jupiter have spread to 10 degrees apart since their close pairing on Oct. 17.
  • Tuesday, Nov. 10, about 45 minutes before sunrise: The last, thin old crescent moon, 28 hours before new, rises in the east to east-southeast, 12 degrees to the lower left of Spica.
  • Thursday, Nov. 12, about half an hour after sunset: Binoculars may show a young crescent moon very low in the west-southwest, with Saturn 2-3 degrees to its lower left.
  • Friday, Nov. 13: This is the final morning Venus and Mars are within 5 degrees.
  • Friday, Nov. 22: This is the final morning Venus and Mars are within 10 degrees—and the first morning Venus and Spica are within 10 degrees.
  • Wednesday, Nov. 25 at dusk: Watch for Aldebaran rising 4 degrees to the lower left of the full moon in the east-northeast. Binoculars will help you see the star in moon’s glare throughout the night.

Watch the moon move! Early on Thanksgiving morning, the moon passes narrowly north of Aldebaran, without covering it. From our region, this happens around 2:48 a.m., when the star appears less than one-quarter of a moon’s width from the moon’s southern limb. Along a very narrow track from near the Oregon-California border across the U.S. to South Carolina, there will be a grazing occultation, as the star repeatedly disappears and reappears from behind mountains on the moon’s south limb.

  • On Thanksgiving, Nov. 26, in morning twilight, the moon is low in the west-northwest, with Aldebaran just more than a degree to its lower right.
  • On the mornings of Sunday, Nov. 29, and Monday, Nov. 30, Venus and Spica appear closest, 4.2 degrees apart.
  • Friday, Dec. 4, morning: Jupiter is 5 degrees to the upper right of the moon.
  • Saturday, Dec. 5, morning: Mars is 5-6 degrees to the lower left of the moon.
  • Sunday, Dec. 6, morning: Spica is 5 degrees to the lower right of the moon.
  • Monday, Dec. 7, morning: Spica is midway between Venus and Mars, 10 degrees from each. A spectacular close conjunction of the crescent moon and Venus takes place in morning twilight. Continue observing after sunrise and witness a daytime occultation of Venus by the moon. From Palm Springs, binoculars and telescopes show the leading sunlit edge of moon covering Venus at 8:09 a.m., and trailing dark edge of the moon (invisible in daylight), uncovering Venus at 9:59 a.m. Times vary with the observer’s location.

After Dec. 7, the waning moon can be followed for 2-3 additional mornings. Last chance: Thursday, Dec. 10, 40 minutes before sunup, a very thin old crescent, only 20-21 hours before new, is very low in the east-southeast. Binoculars will be helpful for spotting it. Try for emerging Saturn, rising within 3 degrees to the moon’s lower right.

Illustrations of events described in this article appear in the Sky Calendar. For a sample issue and to learn how to subscribe, visit www.abramsplanetarium.org/skycalendar.

The Astronomical Society of the Desert will host a star party on Saturday. Nov. 7, at dusk at Saw Mill Trailhead, elevation 4,000 feet in the Santa Rosa Mountains. The society also hosts monthly star parties at the more conveniently located Visitor Center of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument. The next is on Saturday, Nov. 21, from 6 to 9 p.m. Dates of future star events, with directions and maps to the sites, are available at www.astrorx.org.

Robert C. Victor was a staff astronomer at Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs. Robert D. Miller, who provided the twilight charts and the planet orbit charts, did graduate work in planetarium science and later astronomy and computer science at Michigan State University and remains active in research and public outreach in astronomy.

During October and early November, there are exceptionally beautiful gatherings of planets in the morning sky. A waning crescent moon graces the lineup of planets on Oct. 8-11. Oct. 22-29, three planets will converge into a compact group, and on Oct. 25 and 26, the brightest of these, Venus and Jupiter, will pair very closely.

With daylight saving time still in effect through October, a brief sky watch about an hour before sunrise would provide a wonderful, rewarding display of planets at a time not unreasonably early.

Thursday, Oct. 8, one hour before sunrise: Venus gleams brilliantly within 3 degrees to the lower left of the crescent moon. Bright Jupiter shines 13 degrees to the lower left of Venus. Faint reddish Mars glows 4 degrees above Jupiter and 9 degrees to the lower left of Venus. Mercury, just beginning a morning apparition, rises in the east, within 19 degrees to the lower left of Jupiter. On the near side of its orbit, Mercury brightens rapidly and climbs higher in the coming days, but not high enough to meet any of the other planets.

This morning and tomorrow, note blue-white Regulus, heart of Leo, about 2.5 degrees to the upper left of Venus. This morning, students can follow the moon and Venus until sunrise and well beyond to catch Venus in the daytime. A telescope and even a steadily held pair of binoculars will reveal Venus as a crescent. Look an hour before sunup the next three mornings and follow the moon as it slides down the lineup of four planets.

Friday, Oct. 9: The moon appears lower and closer to the sun this morning, so today’s crescent is thinner than yesterday’s. Brilliant Venus is now 9 degrees to the moon’s upper right. Bright Jupiter is about 4.5 degrees to the lower left of the moon. Faint Mars appears within 4 degrees to the upper right of Jupiter and about the same distance north (to the upper left) of the lunar crescent. Can you spot Mercury very low in the east?

Saturday, Oct. 10: An old moon, just 2.5 days before new, is a very striking sight with the sunlit crescent cradling the earthlit darker side within its horns. Look for Mercury 10 degrees to the lower left of the moon, and Jupiter 9 degrees above the moon. Still higher, in order, are dim red Mars, brilliant Venus, and Regulus, to Venus’ upper left.

Sunday, Oct. 11: This is the last chance to see this thin crescent old moon in the morning sky. Just 35 hours before new, it’s a few degrees above the horizon and a few degrees south of due east. Mercury is 2 degrees to the upper left of the moon, 29 degrees to the lower left of brilliant Venus, and 18 degrees to the lower left of Jupiter. Faint Mars is a few degrees above Jupiter, while Regulus is a few degrees to the upper left of Venus. This week, watch Mars close in on Jupiter, while Venus widens its distance from Regulus. Mercury climbs to its highest point in the morning sky for this year late this week, but gets no closer than 28 degrees to the lower left of Venus.

Thursday, Oct. 15, one hour after sunset: Look low in the southwest to west-southwest to find the three-day-old waxing crescent moon, with Saturn 7 degrees to its upper left. Look also for reddish twinkling Antares, heart of the Scorpion, 10 degrees to the lower left of Saturn. By Friday evening, the moon will appear 6 degrees to the upper left of Saturn.

Saturday, Oct. 17, one hour before sunrise: Look closely for faint Mars just 0.4 degrees (less than a moon’s width) to the north (upper left) of Jupiter.

Oct. 22-29: Three planets—in order of brightness Venus, Jupiter and Mars—form a trio, appearing within a 5-degree field of view. Binoculars magnifying up to about 10-power will fit the trio in on these eight mornings.

Sunday, Oct. 25, and Monday, Oct. 26: Venus and Jupiter will appear just more than a degree apart, providing striking views, all within a single telescope field: Jupiter, with its four bright moons discovered by Galileo, and Venus appearing as a “half moon.” This sight should not be missed! The next pairings of Venus-Jupiter—at dusk on Aug. 27, 2016, and at dawn on Nov. 13, 2017—will be tighter, but low in twilight and will catch Venus on the far side of its orbit, displaying a tiny, nearly full disk.

Beginning Tuesday, Oct. 27, in morning twilight: Follow the moon daily for 15 mornings, as it wanes from full, low in the west on Oct. 27, to a thin, old crescent, low in the east-southeast, only 28 hours before new on Tuesday, Nov. 10.

Wed. Oct. 28, 45 minutes before sunrise: Mercury, now on the far side of its orbit, passes within four degrees to the north of emerging Spica. Use binoculars to see the star to the lower right of Mercury. Each morning, Spica appears higher in the sky (resulting from Earth’s revolution around the sun), with Mercury lower (because the inner planet moves faster than Earth).

Thursday and Friday, Oct. 29 and 30, one hour before sunrise: Watch the waning gibbous moon leapfrog past Aldebaran, eye of Taurus, the Bull.

Refer to the October 2015 Sky Calendar for illustrations of the gatherings described in this article. To subscribe online, visit www.abramsplanetarium.org/skycalendar.

The Astronomical Society of the Desert will host a star party, on Saturday, Oct. 10, at dusk at Saw Mill Trailhead, elevation 4,000 feet in the Santa Rosa Mountains. The society will resume monthly star parties at the Visitor Center of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument on Saturday, Oct. 24, from 7 to 10 p.m. Dates of future star parties, with directions and maps to the sites and info on lectures and special events, are available at www.astrorx.org.

Robert C. Victor was a staff astronomer at Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs. Robert D. Miller, who provided the twilight charts and the planet orbit charts, did graduate work in Planetarium Science and later astronomy and computer science at Michigan State University and remains active in research and public outreach in astronomy.

Spectacular events in September include a close pairing of a waning crescent moon and Venus at dawn on Sept. 10—and a total lunar eclipse in the early evening on Sept. 27.

Venus now rises before the sun, and has become a spectacular morning “star” in the east before dawn. Venus reaches its greatest brilliance this year in the third week of September. Now through mid-October, the crescent phase of Venuscan be seen with just a pair of binoculars—just find Venus on any morning before sunup, and then eliminate the planet’s glare against a darkened sky by simply keeping track of it until sunrise or longer. The mornings of Sept. 10 and Oct. 8, with Venus near a crescent moon, are excellent opportunities to easily locate and observe Venus in the daytime.

Ranking next in brightness after Venus these morningsare the blue-white Dog Star Sirius in the southeast, and yellow Capella northwest of overhead. Look for the Winter Hexagon, in clockwise order from its lowest member: Sirius, Procyon, Pollux (and nearby Castor, not shown on the map), Capella, Aldebaran and Rigel. Folks checking the eastern sky regularly about an hour before sunrise can watch for the first appearances—called heliacal risings—of planets and first-magnitude stars. Regulus and Jupiter will emerge by mid-September.

During Venus’ reign as “morning star” through March 2016, the moon passes by the planet in our skies seven times. The first of these monthly events will be on Sept. 10, when, one hour before sunrise, Venuswill gleam in the eastern sky just 4 degrees to the upper right of a 7-percent sunlit crescent moon, graced by earthshine illuminating its upper non-sunlit side. About 6 degrees to the moon’s lower left is dim red Mars, and 9 degrees farther to the lower left is Regulus, heart of Leo, the Lion. Within 15 minutes later, look 6 to 7 degrees to the lower left of Regulus for Jupiter, just rising. The entire span of objects from Venus to Jupiter takes up just 23 degrees.

Venus on the morning of Sept. 10 appears three-quarters of an arcminute in diameter, compared to the moon’s 30 arcminutes, or half a degree. So viewed through a telescope at 40-power, Venus will appear as large as the moon does to unaided eye! The crescent Venus, then 18 percent sunlit and nearing greatest brilliancy, will be very striking. As morning twilight brightens, the crescent Venus will be resolvable even with 7-power binoculars, and easy to find 4-5 degrees to the moon’s upper right. Predawn or daytime, Thursday, Sept. 10, will be an impressive morning for outdoor astronomy!

Evenings: Golden Arcturus in the west, and blue-white Vega nearly overhead, shine as the brightest stars at dusk. Altair and Deneb complete the Summer Triangle with Vega. The moon can be followed one hour after sunset daily from Sept. 15-28, as it waxes from a thin crescent, through first-quarter phase (half full and 90 degrees east of the sun), to one day past full. Steady Saturn remains in view in the southwest at dusk, and appears not far from the reddish twinkling first-magnitude star Antares, heart of the Scorpion, and outshines that star by half a magnitude. Through a telescope, we get fine views of Saturn’s rings.

On Sept. 15, the moon will be 3 degrees up in the west-southwest 45 minutes after sunset, with Spicavisible in binoculars 3 degrees to moon’s lower left.

For the next 12 evenings, look nightly for the moon within an hour after sunset, and watch it change its phase (fraction illuminated) and move toward the place where it has an encounter with Earth’s shadow on Sept. 27.

On Friday, Sept. 18, an hour after sunset, the crescent moon is in the southwest, with Saturn just 2 degrees to its lower left. Note the red supergiant star Antares, heart of the Scorpion, twinkling 12 degrees farther to the left of Saturn, and a little lower.

The next evening, Saturday, Sept. 19, the fat crescent moon is 9 degrees nearly directly above Antares, while Saturn is 12 degrees to the right of the other two bodies, forming an isosceles triangle. On Sunday evening, Sept. 20, the moon is in the south-southwest one hour after sunset, 17 degrees to the upper left of Antares, and 87 degrees (nearly a quarter of a circle) east of the sun. This evening, the moon is nearly at first-quarter phase and appears slightly less than half full.

On Sept. 20, there is just one week to go until a very special full moon: Early in the evening on Sunday, Sept. 27, there will be a total eclipse of the harvest moon. The partial eclipse will already be under way as the moon rises in the east, just before sunset. Excessive media hype will be given to this eclipse, because it coincides with a so-called “Supermoon,” the closest moon of the year. The moon will be in total eclipse from 7:11 p.m. to 8:23 p.m. Pacific, and the partial eclipse will end at 9:27 p.m.

This full moon is both the faintest of the year (when deepest in Earth’s shadow at 7:47 p.m.) and the brightest (around 10:23 p.m., when just outside the penumbra of Earth’s shadow). Stand between a bright light and a reflectorized road sign so that the shadow of your head is cast upon the sign, and you’ll see a brilliant halo around your head’s shadow. The moon’s surface reflects light in the same manner as the reflectorized sign—very strongly back toward the direction of the light source.

On the next few evenings after the eclipse, you can witness moonrise nightly until it occurs too late for convenient viewing. By Oct. 2, moonrise occurs nearly four hours after sunset.

You can also convenientlyobserve the moon daily about one hour before sunrise beginning Sept. 28, the morning after the eclipse, through Oct. 11. On Oct. 2, the moon will occult Aldebaran after sunrise, covering and uncovering the star at about 6:44 a.m. and 7:18 a.m. in the Coachella Valley—both events visible through a telescope.

Be sure to check the schedule of monthly star parties, observing sessions for special events, lectures and more from the Astronomical Society of the Desert at www.astrorx.org. Also: Subscribe to the Sky Calendar online, at www.abramsplanetarium.org/skycalendar.

Robert C. Victor was a staff astronomer at Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs. Robert D. Miller, who provided the twilight charts and the planet orbit charts, did graduate work in planetarium science and later astronomy and computer science at Michigan State University and remains active in research and public outreach in astronomy.

Jupiter sets almost an hour after the sun on Aug. 1, and three minutes earlier each evening thereafter. Using binoculars a half-hour after sunset, look very low, about midway between west and west-northwest, to the left of the sunset point.

If you can still find Jupiter on Aug. 5, try for Mercury, 1.9 degrees to its lower right. On Aug. 6, Mercury is 0.6 degrees to the upper right of Jupiter, and on Aug. 7, it is 1.4 degrees to Jupiter’s upper left. The solar system’s largest planet will be hidden for several weeks while it passes conjunction on the far side of the sun on Aug. 26. Meanwhile, Mercury makes a very low evening appearance, 4 degrees above the western horizon in mid-twilight (about 40 minutes after sunset) from Aug. 18 to Sept. 4, staying at magnitude 0 while shifting from 3 degrees north of west to 10 degrees south of west. Jupiter will emerge into the morning sky in September, joining Venus and Mars to form a spectacular compact trioin late October.

Venus passes inferior conjunction, nearly between Earth and the sun, 8 degrees south of the sun’s disk, on Aug. 15. On the morning of Aug. 17, Venus rises 8 degrees to the right of the sun, simultaneously with it. On Aug. 21, Venus rises 30 minutes ahead of the sun; on Aug. 26, just more than an hour before sunup; and by Aug. 30, Venus rises spectacularly in a dark sky 90 minutes before the sun.

Use binoculars or a telescope to observe its thin crescent phase, while avoiding the planet’s glare against a dark sky. Once you start seeing Venus in the morning sky in late August, just keep track of it until sunrise, and you’ll have a daytime sighting of Venus! This “morning star” will be most interesting through binoculars and telescopes from late August through late October.

If you enjoy the simple pleasure of watching the moonrise over a distant landscape, here’s when to look from the mid-Coachella Valley: On July 31, the full moon rises at 7:59 p.m., less than a quarter-hour after sunset. On Aug. 1, moonrise occurs at 8:44 p.m., within an hour after sunset. On Aug. 2, the moon rises at 9:26 p.m., just after the end of twilight. For the next few days, the moon rises about 40 minutes later each evening. By Aug. 4, the moon comes up at 10:47 p.m., three hours after sunset, allowing a nice window of dark skies before moonrise for enjoying the summer Milky Way. Note the summer triangle of Vega, Altair and Deneb plotted on August’s twilight sky charts. On moonless nights, look near the center of the summer triangle for the Cygnus Star Cloud—a bright patch of the Milky Way, containing stars within our own spiral arm. On dark nights, binoculars easily resolve the Cygnus Star Cloud into stars.

Returning to the sky in evening mid-twilight, we notice that Venus, so prominent in July, is absent; Jupiter is present only early in the month; and Mercury hugs the western horizon after Jupiter has departed. That leaves Saturn as the brightest object less than halfway to overhead. Find it in the south-southwest to southwest at dusk, with reddish twinkling Antares, heart of the Scorpion, 13 degrees to its lower left in all of August.

The rings of Saturnare now tipped 24 degrees from edge on. On evenings in August, Earth is in position to allow our best view of the shadow of the planet cast on the rings, giving the scene a beautiful 3-D appearance. Telescopic views are impressive! View Saturn and many deep-sky objects on Saturday, Aug. 15, at the Astronomical Society of the Desert “star party” at Sawmill Trailhead. For additional information, directions and a map, visit www.astrorx.org.

Golden Arcturus, high in the western sky, and blue-white Vega, high in the northeast, both outshine Saturn. Look also for Spica in the southwest, to the lower left of Arcturus and west (lower right) of Saturn.

The moon can be followed in evening twilight daily, Aug. 16-29, as it waxes from a thin crescent, through first quarter phase (half full and 90 degrees east of the sun on Aug. 22), to full.

Mornings during the summer and fall of 2015 will be fascinating for sky watchers. Those who check the eastern sky regularly about an hour before sunrise can watch for the first appearances—called heliacal risings—of planets and first-magnitude stars. Procyon and Sirius will appear by mid-August; Venus before the end of August; Regulus and Jupiter before mid-September; and Arcturus and Spica by the end of October.

This is a great year for the Perseid meteor shower. The peak—in dark skies on the night of Aug. 12-13—nearly coincides with the new moon. Best viewing is from late evening until the first light of dawn. Meteors belonging to this stream could appear anywhere in the sky, since the stream is much wider than planet Earth. However, if you extend the meteors’ trails backward beyond where they light up in the Earth’s atmosphere, they will all streak away from a point in the constellation Perseus, below the “W” of Cassiopeia in the northeastern sky. As evening twilight ends, this radiant point is very low in the sky, resulting in meteors making long trails through Earth’s atmosphere nearly parallel to the ground. During the night, as the Earth rotates, the radiant climbs ever higher in the sky, and our part of the Earth turns more nearly broadside to the incoming meteors. So the count of meteors is expected to be highest just before the start of morning twilight on Thursday, Aug. 13.

Another peak of activity might be seen on the previous morning, Wednesday, Aug. 12. That’s because before noon that day, the Earth passes nearest to a trail of dust left by Comet Swift-Tuttle in 1862. (That comet is the source of material for the Perseid meteors.) If the stream is broad enough, we could see enhanced numbers of meteors on Wednesday morning, too.

Resource: Get a sample issue and subscribe online to the Sky Calendar at www.abramsplanetarium.org/skycalendar.

Robert C. Victor was a staff astronomer at Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs. Robert D. Miller, who provided the twilight charts and the planet orbit charts, did graduate work in Planetarium Science and later astronomy and computer science at Michigan State University and remains active in research and public outreach in astronomy.

Galileo, more than four centuries ago, observed and described phenomena you can witness in the evening sky this summer, including the phases of Venus, the moons of Jupiter, the Milky Way, details on the surface of the moon, and more. The Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo, a selection of the scientist’s writings translated by Stillman Drake, is fascinating reading.

Venus and Jupiter are still easy to spot during evenings for most of July 2015, because they far outshine all nighttime stars. Venussinks lower in the evening sky in July while getting ever more interesting for telescopic observation: As Venus draws closer to Earth, it displays an ever thinner, more backlit crescent.

Jupiter lingers close to Venus during the final weeks of their joint appearance in evening sky. First, Jupiter appears to right of Venus, by 0.6 degrees on July 1, and 1 degree on July 2. On July 4, they’re still within 2 degrees, and on July 9, within 4 degrees, with Jupiter to the lower right of Venus. On July 13, Venus and Jupiter appear just 5 degrees apart. Even at the end of July, Venus and Jupiter are still within 6.5 degrees, but Venus will then set in bright twilight, very soon after sunset. The crescent phase of Venus can be resolved with just a pair of binoculars, by avoiding the planet’s glare against a darkened sky. The best occasions in 2015 are in the late afternoon or around sunset from mid-June until late July/early August, and around sunrise or soon afterward from late August until mid-October.

Saturn appeared at opposition to the sun and was up all night on May 22, as Earth passed between that planet and the sun. Now in the months following, Saturn remains visible in the evening sky, reaching its high point in the south about half an hour earlier each week, crossing due south at dusk in July. In this year’s observing season, steady Saturn appears not far from the reddish twinkling first-magnitude star Antares, heart of the Scorpion, and outshines that star by as much as a magnitude. Through a telescope, we get fine views of Saturn’s rings, now tipped 24 degrees from edge-on.

The moon can be followed one hour after sunset daily as it waxes from a thin crescent, through first-quarter phase (half full and 90 degrees east of the sun), to full, July 18 through Aug. 1.

In evening sky on July 14, Venus approaches to within 2.4 degrees below Regulus. That evening, Jupiter is 5.2 degrees from Venus, narrowly missing forming a trio (three objects within a 5-degree field). Do all three fit within the field of view of your binoculars? On July 17, 30 minutes after sunset, the young moon is very low, north of west, 11 degrees to the lower right of Venus and 8 degrees to the lower right of Jupiter. Venus and Jupiter are 5.8 degrees apart. On July 18, before sunset from California, during the 6 p.m. hour, Venus is 3/4 of a degree from the moon’s northern cusp (the upper right point of the crescent), and at sunset is still within 0.9 degrees of the moon’s northern cusp. Can you see Venus in the daytime? On July 19, note the triangle Venus-Jupiter-Regulus, 13 degrees to 18 degrees to the lower right of the moon. On July 22 and 23, look for Spica near the moon. The moon reaches first-quarter phase, half full and 90 degrees from the sun, on July 23. On July 25, the moon is 3 degrees to the upper right of Saturn, while Antares is 13 degrees to Saturn’s lower left. On July 26, Saturn is 10 degrees to the moon’s right, and Antares is 9 degrees below the moon.

In the morning sky in July, Mercury can still be spotted very low in the east-northeast an hour before sunup in first half of month. Look to the lower left of Aldebaran, by 9 degrees on July 1, increasing to 22 degrees by July 9. On July 11, two hours before sunup, find the waning crescent moon in the east, 11 degrees right of the Pleiades star cluster, itself a pretty sight for binoculars. On July 12, 75 minutes to 2 hours before sunrise, find the lunar crescent in the east to east-northeast, with Aldebaran, eye of Taurus, 3 1/2 degrees to 3 degrees to the lower left. Binoculars show, in the same field, the fainter more distant stars of the V-shaped Hyades star cluster, with the moon just within the southern point of the sideways “V”. On the next morning, July 13, 75 minutes before sunup, a thinner crescent moon appears 10 degrees to the lower left of Aldebaran. On July 14, catch a last view of the thin old crescent moon about 3 degrees up in the east-northeast, 45 minutes before sunrise. Using binoculars, try for Mercury rising 9 degrees to the moon’s lower left. Also on its way out, Mercury will pass superior conjunction, invisibly on the far side of the sun, on July 23.

Replacing Mercury by the third week of July will be Orion’s two brightest stars: Betelgeuse rising north of east, and Rigel rising south of east. Using binoculars, you spot them as early as July 14; they’ll get easier to see later in the month, as they rise nearly four minutes earlier each morning. Before month’s end, these two bright stars will be easy to see in the east to east-southeast an hour before sunrise, with Orion’s belt appearing as a vertical line of three stars midway between. On July 29 and 30, look much farther north and lower, in the northeast to east-northeast, for the Gemini twins: Castor and Pollux 4 1/2 degrees to its lower right. On those two mornings, fainter Mars (magnitude +1.7) passes 5 3/4 degrees south (lower right) of Pollux.

See them all on July 18, at the Astronomical Society of the Desert “star party” at Sawmill Trailhead in the Santa Rosa Mountains. Visit www.astrorx.org for more information.

Robert C. Victor was a staff astronomer at Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs.

Robert D. Miller, who provided the twilight charts and the planet orbit charts, did graduate work in planetarium science and later astronomy and computer science at Michigan State University and remains active in research and public outreach in astronomy.