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Astronomy

02 Jan 2015
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The year begins with the three other terrestrial (rocky) planets of our solar system—Mercury, Venus and Mars—low in the west-southwest to southwest during evening twilight. Their span shrinks from 27 degrees on Jan. 1, to less than 20 degrees Jan. 11-20. Bright Venus, of magnitude -3.9, draws attention to the gathering. Find Mercury just to its lower right, within 3 degrees Jan. 1-17, 2 degrees Jan. 4-15, and 1 degree Jan. 8-12. On Jan. 10 at dusk, Mercury appears within two-thirds of a degree to the lower right of Venus! As seen from Earth, Mercury will not overtake Venus, and will instead fall just short. This is a quasi-conjunction, an approach within 5 degrees without an actual conjunction, when two planets share the same “x-coordinate.” Mercury shines at magnitude -0.8 Jan. 1-11, fades through magnitude 0 on Jan. 19, magnitude +1 on Jan. 22, and magnitude +2 on Jan. 24,…
30 Nov 2014
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Near the start of December every year, the first-magnitude star Aldebaran, eye of Taurus the Bull, and “follower” of the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, is visible all night as Earth makes its annual passage between Aldebaran and the sun. Look for Aldebaran low in the east-northeast at dusk, high in the south in the middle of the night, and low in the west-northwest at dawn. On New Year’s Eve, the brightest star, Sirius the Dog Star, reaches its high point in the south in the middle of the night. You can observe Sirius for much of that night, but not at dusk or dawn, because the star’s path from rising to setting is too far south and too short to keep it above the horizon through the long winter night. Some 21 to 22 minutes earlier, and 36 degrees lower than Sirius at its highest, observers in Southern California can…
31 Oct 2014
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In late November, catch the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, star cluster visible all night, low in the east-northeast at dusk; high in the south in middle of night; and low in the west-northwest at dawn. The view of this beautiful star cluster through a pair of binoculars is a sight not to be missed! The brightest stars in November at dusk: Arcturus, the “bear-chaser” star, can still be spotted very low in the west-northwest at dusk at start of November, but disappears below the horizon by second week. Mountains to the west will hasten its departure. Vega is very high in the west-northwest, three-quarters of the way from horizon to overhead on Nov. 1, and still halfway up to overhead at month’s end. Capella, the “mother-goat” star, is very low in the north-northeast to northeast at dusk in November, and slowly gaining in altitude. Note how stars near the horizon,…