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Astronomy

31 May 2014
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Three planets are easy to spot in the evening sky in early June, and two of them are real showpieces, if you happen to have access to a telescope: Jupiter, with its four satellites discovered by Galileo, and its two dark cloud belts; and Saturn, with its spectacular rings. June 2014 at dusk: The six brightest starlike objects visible at duskare Jupiter (the brightest, of magnitude -1.9 to -1.8); Mars (magnitude -0.5 to 0.0); the stars Arcturus, Vega and Capella (all near 0.0); and Saturn (+0.2 to 0.4). (The lower the magnitude number is, the brighter the object.) Stars appear to twinkle noticeably, because of the Earth’s atmosphere. The planets generally shine with a steadier light, because they are close enough to Earth to show a disk, at least when seen through a telescope. Each point of the planet’s disk twinkles like a star, but if you add up the…
30 Apr 2014
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May evenings are rich with bright stars: As many as 11 of the 16 brightest stars visible from the Coachella Valley can be viewed simultaneously in twilight—and this year, four of the five naked-eye planets will join the display. On the night of Friday, May 23, there will bepossible outbursts of meteors as Earth passes through several trails of debris from a small comet. Outbursts could be short, with the peak likely between midnight and 1 a.m., Saturday, May 24. Although meteors from these outbursts could be seen anywhere in sky, if their paths are extended backward, they will radiate from a point to the lower left of the North Star, Polaris. You might like to camp out in a dark place on that Friday night, and keep watch for unusually slow meteors (only about 30 percent as fast as August’s Perseids) between 10:30 p.m. on Friday and 2 a.m.…
31 Mar 2014
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April 2014 at dusk: Jupiter is clearly the brightest “star” in evening twilight during April. Mars briefly equals or slightly outshines Sirius as the red planet passes opposition and makes its closest approach to Earth in the second week. Next in apparent brightness are Arcturus and Capella, high in the sky and easily seen. Slightly fainter Saturn rises in the east-southeast around mid-twilight at month’s end. In the eastern half of the sky, Regulus, Arcturus and (barely) Mars are already up and ascending on April 1. As Earth passes between Mars and the sun on April 8, Mars is at opposition to the sun and visible all night. The same alignment occurs with the star Spica just five days later. The moon forms striking gatherings with stars and planets during the first half of April. The waxing crescent will be a beautiful sight during the first few evenings in April…