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Astronomy

31 Mar 2015
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Few people will choose to arise early to catch the start of the lunar eclipse on Saturday morning, April 4, when the spring’s first full moon begins to enter the umbra, or dark central core, of Earth’s shadow at 3:16 a.m. local time. For the next 1.7 hours, more and more of the moon will be immersed in the Earth’s circular dark shadow, until the start of the total eclipse at 4:58 a.m. Even before then, the rusty color typical of the moon in deep eclipse should be noticed—at least in the lower part of the moon’s disk, closer to the center of Earth’s shadow. Totality lasts less than five minutes, as the northern (upper) edge of the moon barely passes within the outer edge of Earth’s umbra. There should be a pronounced difference in color and brightness between the top and bottom edges of the moon. Totality ends by…
27 Feb 2015
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March 2015 at dusk: Early in the month, the four brightest “stars,” in order of brilliance, are: Venus, in the west; Jupiter, in the eastern sky; Sirius, the “Dog Star,” 40 degrees up in the south as seen from the Coachella Valley; and Canopus, less than 4 degrees up when it passes due south about 21 minutes before Sirius does. From the Coachella Valley, you must choose your site carefully to see Canopus, or mountains might block your view. From my abode in Palm Springs, I see Canopus blink out when it goes behind a mountainside several minutes before it reaches its high point. From Palm Springs and Desert Hot Springs, Canopus passes due south only 4 degrees up in a dark sky at 7:32 p.m. on March 1, and then four minutes earlier each day, to 7:08 p.m. on March 7, and suddenly 8:04 p.m. on Sunday, March 8—an…
30 Jan 2015
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Two planets and a star far outshine all competitors at dusk in February. They are: Venus, of magnitude -4, low in the west-southwest, shifting toward the west and slowly gaining altitude as this month progresses; Jupiter, of magnitude -2.6, starting very low in the east-northeast, moving into the east and climbing about 1 degree higher each day (if viewed at the same stage of twilight daily); and blue-white Sirius, the “Dog Star” and brightest of nighttime stars, twinkling at magnitude -1.4 and ascending through southeast toward south-southeast at dusk as February runs its course. Follow these three bright objects at dusk in coming months. Sirius will disappear into the west-southwest twilight glow during May, while Venus and Jupiter remain in view until at least late in July. February’s other naked-eye evening planet is Mars, appearing as a red “star” of magnitude +1.2 to +1.3, not far from Venus all this…