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Astronomy

30 Dec 2013
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At the turn of every year—the night of Dec. 31-Jan. 1—Sirius the Dog Star, the brightest of nighttime stars (but not as bright as Venus or Jupiter), follows the sun across the sky by almost exactly 12 hours. This means that the blue-white twinkling star reaches its high point in the south on Dec. 31 near local midnight, solar time. Sirius attains its high point in the south about four minutes earlier each night, or two hours earlier with each passing month. By the start of spring (March 20), Sirius will stand high in the south in evening mid-twilight, only 40 minutes after sunset. In the meantime, enjoy Sirius and the attendant stars of Canis Major, the Greater Dog, marching across the southern sky, acting out the lines of Robert Frost’s poem, “Canis Major”: The great Overdog That heavenly beast With a star in one eye Gives a leap in…
29 Dec 2013
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There are chances on consecutive days to catch a crescent moon within 24 hours of a new moon—a rare thing indeed. Here are the details. First, look about 45 minutes before sunrise on Tuesday, Dec. 31, to catch the old crescent moon very low in the east-southeast. Binoculars will help you spot the rising moon about 20 degrees to the lower left of Antares. Once you spot the lunar crescent, note the time, and calculate the interval remaining until the new moon, which occurs Jan. 1 at 3:14 a.m. PST. From Southern California, crescent sightings will occur 21 hours before new. The next chance to see the moon occurs at dusk on Wednesday, Jan. 1. As noted above, the new moon occurs early that day. Using binoculars, start looking for the thin young crescent moon, very low in the west-southwest, about 25 minutes after sunset. You’ll need to observe from…
30 Nov 2013
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December’s evening views begin with Venus near its brightest and highest in the southwest; the Summer Triangle of Vega-Altair-Deneb high in the west; and Fomalhaut, mouth of the Southern Fish, just east of due south. At the start of December, the only bright objects in the eastern sky at mid-twilight are Capella, the mother goat star, in the northeast, and Aldebaran, eye of Taurus, very low in the east-northeast. Around Dec. 1 each year, that star is up all night from dusk to dawn. Wait a few minutes to allow the evening sky to darken a bit, and you’ll notice the compact Pleiades, or Seven Sisters cluster, 14 degrees above Aldebaran. The scene is beautifully described in Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Locksley Hall”: “Many a night I saw the Pleiades / rising thro’ the mellow shade / glittering like a swarm of fireflies / tangled in a silver braid.” Don’t miss…