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Regulars (Sky Watch by J. Alex Knoll)

Can you track down Neptune?

Thursday and Friday offer the best chance to track down the only planet never visible to the unaided eye: Neptune, the most distant planet in the solar system since Pluto’s demotion to planetoid status several years ago.
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We’ve rewarded our most loyal ­companion with three constellations

Of the 88 official constellations over our heads, nearly half are animals, serpents, birds and fishes. Admired for their beauty or feared for their strength, these are wild creatures, beasts you wouldn’t want to encounter, let alone have in the house. In fact, of them all, only a few are domesticated animals. One of the oldest recognized constellations is Taurus the bull....

Don’t miss the Perseids, the best of the meteor showers

The moon reaches last-quarter Thursday, rising around midnight. Look for the faint lights of the Pleiades star cluster, marking the back of Taurus the bull, 10 degrees above the moon.
    The next night, or rather morning, the moon rises near 1am, now just scant degrees from Aldebaran, the red heart of the bull, and Jupiter, forming a tight triangle. Brilliant Venus trails this pack by about 20 degrees.
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Three points to summer’s triangle

Thursday’s full moon brightens the sky from dusk till dawn. American Indians called this the sturgeon moon, as it marks the time when these great fish once began their migration and were most easily caught. Sturgeon have been plying our waters for more than 150 million years, yet today most species are endangered.
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Summer nights are always filled with stellar sights

A gibbous moon waxes through afternoon and evening skies this week. Friday the moon, just past first quarter, is low in the southwest after sunset, with fiery Antares, the heart of Scorpius, trailing less than 10 degrees behind.
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What color will you see in Libra’s beta star?

Thursday’s new moon leaves weekend skies bereft of excess light, highlighting the backdrop of stellar lights.
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There’s a lot to see in our galaxy

Venus is at its brightest in the east before dawn this week, reaching its greatest illuminated extent on the 12th, when it occupies the greatest chunk of celestial real estate as viewed from Earth. After that, the planet pulls away from us, dimming a bit but by no means losing its clear title as the brightest object in the sky other than sun and moon.
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Looking for ET with Hercules

Given the scorching temperatures of late, you might be surprised to know that earth is at its farthest point from the sun this time of year, called, aphelion. On July 4, Earth reached the apex of its elliptical orbit around the sun at 94,505,851 miles. That’s about three million miles farther than at perihelion, earth’s closest point to the sun.
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See if you can beat Galileo’s 40

As the sun sets this week, its latest of the year at 8:35, Saturn and Mars appear in the darkening skies, Mars high in the southwest and Saturn trailing 25 degrees at due south. Mars sets at midnight, with Saturn following 90 minutes later.
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You’ll have to rise early and stay up late to see all five naked-eye planets

The nascent crescent moon emerges from the glow of sunset low in the west-northwest Thursday evening. Above the moon is Mercury with the Gemini twins Pollux and Castor higher still. Sunset Friday finds the waxing crescent a little higher in the west with Mercury, Pollux, and Castor farther to its right.
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