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Astronomy

16 Feb 2014
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Author Fred Schaaf describes a very thin crescent moon in his book The 50 Best Sights in Astronomy and How to See Them. Recounting an early sighting of a very young moon, he writes that the moon was “thin as a single snippet of pale gold hair falling, falling gently through dusk to the repose of the low forest horizon,” and that it was “a slight but dreaming and luminous smile scarcely touching the face of that twilight sky, a face whose tender tones and shades were the only things which could possibly be delicate enough to hold the moon. … An indelible mark, a slenderest sliver of pure celestial beauty that eternity keeps forever from harm or slightest alteration.” Here in the Coachella Valley and elsewhere in the U.S., there will be yet another rare chance to see not just one, but two unusually thin crescent moons, about 36…
01 Feb 2014
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February 2014 at dusk: The two brightest “stars” at dusk in February are, by a wide margin, steady yellowish Jupiter, high in the east, and blue-white, madly twinkling Sirius, the dog star, in the southeast. The only other evening planet is Mercury, very low south of west, but it will fade and is on its way to conjunction with the sun. The waxing gibbous moon, four days before full, appears near Jupiter on the evening of Feb. 10. Surrounding Jupiter is the huge Winter Hexagon of Sirius-Procyon-Pollux-Capella-Aldebaran-Rigel. The noticeably red star Betelgeuse is also within the hexagon. Find the three-star belt of Orion, the hunter, midway between Betelgeuse and bluish Rigel. The belt, extended southeastward, locates Sirius. Extend the belt in the opposite direction, and turn north a bit, and you’ll find Aldebaran, eye of Taurus, the bull. Go farther to find the Pleiades, or seven sisters—a wonderful sight for…
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…