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Astronomy

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…
01 Nov 2013
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A common yet striking event is the monthly pairing of Venus and the crescent moon. In the closing 10 weeks of Venus’ current evening apparition, pairings will occur at dusk on Nov. 6, Dec. 5, and Jan. 1 and 2. Jupiter is usually the planet next in terms of brilliance after Venus, so its pairings near the moon, occurring at intervals of 27 to 28 days, are often impressive. The moon is always in its crescent phase when it is seen near Venus, but can appear in any phase, from a thin crescent to full, when it passes Jupiter. This month, Jupiter will appear near the moon on the night of Nov. 21-22, from four hours after sunset until dawn. Venus appears at greatest elongation, appearing a maximum of 47 degrees from the sun in our sky on Oct. 31, in the afternoon and evening sky, and on March 22,…
01 Oct 2013
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Follow the moon each day at dusk or dawn—and within one cycle, it will introduce you to as many as all five naked-eye planets, and the five bright stars of first magnitude within the belt of zodiac constellations. The new moon occurs on Friday, Oct. 4. Two days later, on Sunday evening, Oct. 6, about 20 minutes after sunset, a thin sliver of a young lunar crescent will appear very low in the west-southwest, 20 degrees to the lower right of the bright “evening star,” Venus. Valley residents would need to seek out a place with an unobstructed sight line in that direction, since the moon will be less than 6 degrees up at 7 p.m., within a half-hour after sunset. (In other words, if you’re in downtown Palm Springs or elsewhere near the mountains, you’re out of luck!) But the view through binoculars is worthwhile: Flanking the moon will…