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Mid-Summer Nights Delight

The new moon sets the stage

Early risers Friday should look for the last sliver of the waning moon low in the northeast before 6am. After that, the new moon disappears amid the sun’s blinding glare.
    Monday a thin crescent re-appears low in the west for a half-hour after sunset around 8:15. A half-dozen degrees away shines Mercury, and above that Regulus, the blue-white heart of Leo the lion and the dot of its backward question mark-shaped face.
    With darkness Tuesday, the waxing crescent appears a dozen degrees higher in the east at sunset and remains visible until 9:30. Far to the east shines Saturn and the star Spica. Wednesday night, the moon shines 10 degrees below Saturn with the dimmer Spica farther to the east.
    With the moon absent much of this week, the rest of the sky stands out in stark relief, providing a good backdrop for two stellar summer treats.
    Perched a third of the way out in one of the spiral arms of the Milky Way galaxy, we look straight toward the star-dense center on summer nights. Stretching from Cassiopeia in the north through the stars of the Summer Triangle and south to Scorpius, all but the brightest of these stars are easily drowned out in light pollution. But a short trek to isolated, dark skies will reveal this river of stars in all its glory.
    With the moon’s absence, these are the best nights to see shooting stars. Even now, Earth is passing through the debris-strewn trail of comet, which spawns the Delta Aquarid meteors. You might see 20 to 25 meteors under ideal conditions through the first week of August, with slow movers appearing to come from south to north.
    This year’s Perseids peak in a couple weeks during full moon, but already some of these meteors are streaking overhead, crossing the sky in only a few seconds and mostly moving from north to south.