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Let the Night Sky Test Your Eyes

The Milky Way is waiting overhead

The moon wanes to new phase Saturday the 15th. While you may be able to see a razor-thin cresecent low in the east before sunrise Friday, the moon won’t reappear until Tuesday, low in the west for less than an hour after sunset. But given the chance, you’ll want to catch it, forming a wide obtuse triangle with Saturn slightly higher to the right and Mars higher still to the left. The next night, the scene repeats itself, except the growing moon is now the highest point of the three.
    Mars and Saturn continue to drift apart, with the ringed planet sinking ever closer to the west and the sun, while Mars is slowly climbing eastward and higher into the sky.
    Mars is an easy target early Wednesday evening as it’s just a couple degrees to the right of the bulging crescent moon. To the other side of the red planet you’ll find Zubenelgenubi, the upper scale of Libra and the only star reported to glow with a greenish hue. Some people swear they can see it; others say not so. See for yourself.
    While Jupiter rises almost an hour before midnight, it puts on its best face in the wee hours, reaching the celestial zenith just before dawn. A half-dozen degrees to the right is Aldebaran, the red eye of Taurus the bull. By that time Venus has joined the scene, rising around 3am and blazing high in the east with daybreak’s approach.
    With scant interference from the moon, this is the best time of year to spot the Milky Way, which under truly dark skies appears as a hazy band of light stretching across the sky. Sagittarius marks the Milky Way’s epicenter, its brightest point. From there, it stretches north to Aqulia, then splits into two branches that snake toward Cygnus. The darkness in between is called the Great Rift, a mass of distant intergalactic gas. From Cygnus the path trickles toward Cassiopeia, again growing brighter as it nears Perseus and Auriga.