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Astronomy

06 Aug 2014
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The full moon occurs on Sunday, Aug. 10, at 11:09 a.m. The moon passes perigee—221,765 miles from Earth, the closest approach of the year—at the same hour. But this “supermoon,” visible at dawn and dusk on that date, is not the brightest moon of 2014, because of the phase effect, which makes the moon’s brightness decrease sharply when it’s a few degrees away from being exactly 180 degrees from the sun. You can duplicate this effect one night by standing between a stationary bright-light source and a highly reflective road sign, so that the shadow of your head is cast upon the sign. Note how the sign really lights up around your head’s shadow, giving the shadow a brilliant “halo.” However, if you take a step or two to left or right, you’ll notice how quickly the road sign fades away. August's full moon passes four to five degrees north…
01 Aug 2014
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This month, Mars and Saturn draw attention in the southwest evening sky, as they appear within 10 degrees of each other from Aug. 8 on—and within 5 degrees Aug. 19-31. Viewed through a telescope this month, Saturn—with its shadow cast upon its rings—has a striking three-dimensional appearance. August 2014 at dusk: The five brightest objects in evening mid-twilight are Arcturus and Vega, near magnitude 0.0; Mars (+0.4 to +0.6); Saturn (+0.5 to +0.6); and Altair (+0.8). We have our first mutual conjunction of naked-eye planets in the evening sky this year, as Mars passes 3.4 degrees south of Saturn on Aug. 25, in the southwest sky. At dusk on Aug. 31, a thick crescent moon forms a pretty gathering with Mars and Saturn, several hours after a daytime occultation of the ringed planet. As for stars: Arcturus, Spica, Antares, all in the west half of the sky, sink lower as…
30 Jun 2014
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Mars and Saturn are easy to spot in the evening sky throughout July; Saturn, with its rings, is a real showpiece for telescopic viewing. Mars will form a close, eye-catching pair with the star Spica for several evenings around July 13. In the brightening dawn for much of month, brilliant Venus has a companion, Mercury, not far to its lower left. Especially attractive gatherings of the moon, planets and stars occur on July 5 and 7 at dusk, and on July 22 and 24 at dawn. Dark moonless nights offer excellent views of the Milky Way, best July 1 and 2 after moonset; and in the latter half of month. July 2014 at dusk: The four brightest starlike objects visible at dusk (excluding Jupiter, barely above the west-northwest horizon at the start of month) are: Arcturus and Vega (both near magnitude 0.0); Mars (0.0 to +0.4); and Saturn (+0.4 to…