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Coming to a Horizon Near You

Start looking for Venus and Mars

The recent Hunter’s Moon still dominates the night sky when it rises after sunset Thursday, with the piercing light of Jupiter to the moon’s right. While the waning moon rises later through the week, Jupiter rises earlier until reaching opposition October 28. At that point, the gaseous giant will be directly opposite the sun, rising in our east at sunset, shining at the sky’s apex around midnight and setting in the west at sunrise. There should be no mistaking Jupiter, as it’s brighter than any other star or planet. Well, almost any.
    In the wake of sunset, now before 6:30, Venus blazes briefly above the west-southwest horizon. As it returns to evening skies, our sister planet continues this game of hide-and-seek amid twilight’s glow for another six weeks. But by late November, it will quickly gain ground and command the heavens as the evening star through winter. In the meantime, you’ll need clear skies and an unimpeded view. Binoculars will help.
    Those binoculars will come in handy over the weekend, when the now noticeably waning gibbous moon hovers a half-dozen degrees from the the Pleiades star cluster, to its right Friday and below it Saturday. To the unaided eye, this cluster looks at best like a smudge of light. But magnified, the Pleiades reveals far more stars than the seven sisters of Greek myth.
    The last-quarter moon rises at midnight, the dividing line between Wednesday evening and Thursday morning with the Gemini twins Pollux and Castor a little more than a dozen degrees overhead.
    Mars rises before 2am, about 90 minutes after the moon Thursday morning, and is high in the east by dawn. While the ruddy planet is no brighter than the average star now, in coming months it climbs the horizon, rising earlier through winter and in the process growing almost 10 times brighter.