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Articles by J. Alex Knoll

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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Three planets and the moon greet the dawn

The waning crescent moon rises around midnight at week’s end and is high in the south come dawn. By the weekend, it rises in the wee hours of the night. Look for it just one degree below blue-white Spica before dawn Sunday. The next morning the moon rises later and is just a few degrees away from golden Saturn. Tuesday it is a thin crescent in the east, just two degrees below Venus.
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Within the great hunter’s sword is a celestial nursery

A waning gibbous moon brightens much of our nights this week, reaching last-quarter Wednesday, December 6th. But as of Thursday, the near-full moon rises amid the shadows of twilight, around 5:30pm, with golden Jupiter roughly 10 degrees higher, about the span of your closed fist at arm’s-length....

November’s full moon reminds us to prepare for winter

As the evening sky darkens, Mars appears briefly, low in the southwest, a red-orange glimmer as bright as any star. This is the best view of the red planet we’ll have for many weeks.
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You won’t mind picking up after comet Tempel-Tuttle

The young crescent moon appears in the southwest at twilight Thursday and Friday, with ruddy Mars a half-dozen degrees to the east the first night and to the southwest the next. Through the weekend the waxing moon sets well before midnight, providing a dark backdrop for the annual Leonid meteor shower.
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Look for Andromeda while waiting for meteors

The moon wanes through morning skies before reaching new phase in the nether hours between Tuesday and Wednesday. Before then, look for the waning crescent near brilliant Venus before dawn over the weekend. By early morning Sunday, a thin sliver of moon is just five degrees below the dazzling morning star in the east. If you have a clear view of the horizon, scan it for Saturn, reemerging from the sun’s glare....

Fomalhaut glows in the south

Shortly after the sun sets, test your eyes searching for Mars low in the southwest. To the right shines similarly colored Antares, the heart of Scorpius, the gap between the two widening noticeably over the coming week, but they both set before 7pm.
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No goody bag needed

As the sun sets Friday, see if you can spot Mercury dangling low against the southwest horizon before it too sets within a half-hour. While fleeting, this is Mercury’s best evening apparition. At this point, Mercury is at its greatest eastern elongation, meaning that, as seen from Earth, the innermost planet is its farthest to the east of the sun, in this case 24 degrees....

You won’t have to wait 50 years to see the spawn of this comet

It’s been 26 years since Halley’s comet visited back in 1986, and it won’t come this way again until 2062. But each year at this time we get a postcard of sorts from Halley in the form of the Orionid meteor shower, which peaks in the pre-dawn hours Saturday and Sunday.
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