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From Fireballs to Neighboring Galaxies

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. Monday before dawn, the ringed planet is a half-dozen degrees below the razor-thin crescent moon.
    This weekend marks the peak of the North Taurid meteor shower, which follows last weekend’s South Taurids. While both Taurids typically deliver no more than 10 meteors an hour, they make up for quantity with quality. The bits of stellar debris that create the Taurids are much larger than the bits of dust from other meteor showers, often resulting in large fireballs that streak slowly across the sky. Your best bet to spot these shooting stars is between midnight and dawn. They appear to originate in the constellation Taurus, but you might see them anywhere on the celestial dome.
    Without the moon’s glare, clear skies away from the urban glow will reveal the Milky Way, stretching from the constellation Auriga in the northeast to Sagittarius in the southwest. Every star we see, including our own sun, is part of the Milky Way. In fact, there is only one visible object in the night sky that isn’t part of the Milky Way.
    At roughly two and a half million light-years away, the Andromeda Galaxy is the most distant object you can see with the unaided eye. Once you find it, between the constellations Andromeda and Cassiopeia, it’s surprisingly large, appearing as a hazy patch covering more sky than the full moon. This time of year, it appears in the southeast at sunset, is almost overhead at midnight and is low in the northwest as dawn approaches.