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The Dawn’s Early Lights

Meteors and planets dance across our skies

The annual Eta Aquarid meteors will likely be at their best before dawn Friday with encores possible early Saturday and Sunday. Unless you’re pulling an all-nighter, you’ll have to wake early, as the closer to dawn the greater their intensity.
    The spawn of dust and debris from Halley’s Comet igniting against earth’s atmosphere, the Eta Aquarids are not the most furious meteor shower, producing from 10 to 40 meteors an hour. What they lack in numbers, they often make up for in flare. The Eta Aquarids blaze at upward of 148,000 miles an hour, so fast they often leave long, ghost-like trains. Plus, this is the only meteor shower of the year not marred by moonlight.
    At week’s end, the nascent crescent moon emerges from the sun’s glare for a few hours after sunset. Friday, it shines above the setting star Betelgeuse and farther below the bright springtime star Capella. Saturday evening, the moon’s upper tip points to the twins of Gemini, Castor and Pollux, while its lower tip points to Procyon of Ursa Minor. Monday, the first-quarter moon hovers at the center of Cancer, which marks the Beehive Cluster. Then Tuesday and Wednesday it shines to either side of Regulus, the heart of Leo the lion.
    Looking to the east before dawn, scan the horizon for Venus low against the graying sky. Search just below Venus for Mercury, which reaches elongation — its farthest point from the sun — Saturday. Jupiter joins the fray, too, just five degrees to the left, close enough for all three to fit within binoculars’ field of view. Scan the horizon below Jupiter for Mars. From now until mid-month, these four dance before dawn, shifting position relative to one another. While Mercury sinks lower and sets earlier each night, the other three planets rise a little earlier and climb a bit higher.