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Sky Watch by J. Alex Knoll

The bright stars of the Summer Triangle linger at sunset, with Deneb in the constellation Cygnus almost directly overhead, brighter Vega in Lyra to the west and Altair of Aquila to the south. As they set in the west, the stars of the Great Winter Circle shine in the east.

There’s a lot to see before dawn

Venus, Jupiter and Mars command the pre-dawn sky, strung out in a nearly straight line above the east horizon. The first-magnitude star Spica crests the horizon a little before sunrise, adding a fourth point in the string of lights.

Look to Taurus for Hyades, Pleiades

The stars of winter are gathering in the growing darkness, with Taurus rising in the east around 7pm. Its brightest star, Aldebaran, marks the bull’s eye. From there, look a few degrees higher for the Hyades star cluster, and from there look another 10 degrees up for the more renown Pleiades cluster. Orion trails the bull, rising around 8:30pm, followed by Pegasus. Far to the west, in a barren section of sky, is fall’s brightest star, Fomalhaut.

Moon, Venus, Jupiter and Mars beckon in the west

The moon wanes through morning skies until new moon on the 11th. Before dawn Friday you’ll find Luna barely two degrees north of bright Jupiter. Early Saturday the moon joins brilliant Venus and much dimmer Mars, forming a tight triangle easily within the view of binoculars. Use them to scan the eastern horizon a half-hour before sunrise for fleeting Mercury.     Those binoculars will come in handy at dusk too, as Saturn appears very low in the southwest before setting from sight.

Just how rare are two full moons in one month?

The full moon lights up the night Friday, the second full moon of the month, a Blue Moon.     The history of the phrase Blue Moon dates back several hundred years, but the meaning has evolved. As far back as the 16th century, it was an expression of absurdity. I’ll believe that when the moon is blue would have the same effect as saying I’ll believe that when hell freezes over.

Can you spot the International Space Station?

As darkness deepens Thursday, you’ll find the first-quarter moon high in the south-southwest with the bright star Spica seven degrees to its lower right.     Friday night the moon has pulled eastward and is equidistant from Spica to its right and Saturn to its left. Even closer to the left of the moon is the faint star Zubenelgenubi, which marks the fulcrum of the celestial scales Libra. Train binoculars on this star, however, and you’ll see that it is actually a double.

Nine-year, three-billion-mile mission to study solar system’s outer limits

As the sky darkens, Venus and Jupiter appear low in the west. While the gap between the two planets is growing, they are both inching toward Regulus, with Venus two degrees below the star Monday and Tuesday.     Dusk reveals Saturn above the southern horizon with the three stars marking the head of Scorpius beneath it and Antares, the heart of the scorpion, a dozen degrees below.

No need for fireworks here

While you’re waiting for fireworks in the gathering darkness, impress your friends and family with a quick orientation of the celestial lights popping into view.

Earth’s 23.5-degree axis gives us summer, winter and everything between

As evening twilight settles Thursday, look to the western horizon for the nascent crescent moon. Above it are Venus and Jupiter. The bright star Regulus is up there, too, forming a line with Venus and Jupiter, each roughly a dozen degrees from the next. Keep an eye on the two planets as they inch closer together over the next two weeks before a spectacular end-of-month conjunction when they are within one-third degree of one another.

The sun follows its own clock

As darkness falls, first Venus then Jupiter pop into view in the wake of the setting sun. Venus blazes at magnitude –4.4, exponentially brighter than Jupiter at magnitude –2, which still outshines any star. The two planets are inching closer on their way to an end-of-month rendezvous. This week the gap between the two shrinks to 10 degrees — close enough to obscure both with your fist held at arm’s length.