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Articles by J. Alex Knoll

Across time and cultures, the night skies tell the story of the seasons

The waning gibbous moon rises in the late evening at week’s end, and by the time of last-quarter Tuesday it doesn’t rise until almost 2am. Thursday the 28th, the moon appears within a fraction of a degree from blue-white Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo. Spica’s return to evening skies is a sign that spring isn’t far behind....

The sap’s flowing, so you can get sowing

The gibbous moon waxes to full phase Monday, February 25. Early evening Thursday the 21st, the moon is between Castor and Pollux of Gemini to the north and yellow-hued Procyon in Canis Minor to the south. The Little Dog Procyon is the eighth-brightest star, with the brightest star Sirius, the Big Dog, trailing 20 degrees to the southwest.
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Asteroid 2012 DA14 whizzes by

If you feel a slight breeze around 1:30pm Friday, February 15, it could be the passing of Asteroid 2012 DA14. This 150-foot wide hunk of space rock is small as far as asteroids are concerned, but its closeness to Earth is unusual. Coming within 17,200 miles of Earth, this will be the closest recorded interstellar object to our planet and well within the moon’s orbit around Earth....

Mercury joins Mars in its last hurrah

For more than a month now, Mars has been clinging to the southwest horizon in evening twilight. The next couple weeks are your last chance to spot our red neighbor, which has been a fixture in the night sky for more than a year and a half. But he goes out in style, joined this week by much brighter Mercury in a spectacluar conjunction.
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Let this bright moon lead you through the sky

Saturday marks the year’s first full moon, called the Wolf Moon by Native Americans and Europeans alike, as with January’s frigid cold and deep snows, the hungry animals came their closest to human settlements.
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Jupiter’s “Three Fixed Stars”

It was 403 years ago this month, in 1610, that Galileo Galilei trained his telescope at distant Jupiter, and discovered the first four and the largest of its many moons....

Can you recognize the Quarterback, the Running Back, the Wide Receiver and the Linebacker?

As the sun sets, now after 5pm, the familiar figure or Orion straddles the east horizon. Named after the mighty Greek hunter of mythology, this figure bears an uncanny resemblance to a hero of our own modern mythos: the Quarterback. There he is, the Raven’s Joe Flacco, leaning back, his weight planted on his rear foot, his right arm cocked for a pass, his left arm extended against the onslaught of rushing defenders.
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We’re speeding past our closest point to the sun

It’s counter-intuitive during these long, cold nights of winter, but early January brings the earth its closest to the sun in its annual orbit. Wednesday the second marked the actual point of perihelion, when we were two percent closer to the sun than usual....

If the world doesn’t end, winter begins

With any luck, Friday, December 21 will not mark the end of the world, but rather the usual beginning of winter for the Northern Hemisphere. The Mayans and their vanished civilization are a true mystery, made all the more poignant by their accomplishments, building great pyramids and devising an elaborate calendar. That calendar, like those of other civilizations throughout history and around the globe, recognizes December 21 as the end of the year — and the beginning of the new....

An asteroid spawns the Geminids

Thursday’s new moon provides dark cover for this year’s Geminid meteor shower, which peaks that night and into the wee hours Friday. The Geminids are perhaps the best of the annual meteor showers, but because of December’s chill, many people haven’t truly appreciated them.
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