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Sky Watch by J. Alex Knoll

More than stars and planets brighten our night skies

The moon wanes through week’s end, reaching new phase Sunday. Friday the thin crescent rises around 4am, trailing a dozen degrees behind the Gemini twins Castor and Pollux to slightly to the north and ruddy Mars a little to the south.

When the Dog Star rises, so does the heat

The waning moon rises around 10:30pm at week’s end Friday, with the bright glow of Jupiter trailing just a few degrees behind. By Sunday, the last-quarter moon rises a little before midnight just below the speckling lights of the Pleiades star cluster, which mark the back of Taurus. Ten degrees beneath the moon glares the bull’s red eye, the star Aldebaran, and midway between the two, outlining Taurus’ V-shaped face, are the stars of the Hyades cluster.

The near-full moon bleaches out all but the brightest of this year’s Perseid meteor shower

The moon waxes to full Saturday, rising between the dim water constellations Aquarius and Capricornus. August’s full moon is named the Green Corn Moon, the Grain Moon and the Sturgeon Moon, for the great fish that once filled our waterways.

Gazing at the Andromeda Galaxy, we look through space and time

Of all the lights in the heavens, one stands alone. Looking at the night sky, we stare at a family of stars all akin to our own, all a part of the Milky Way Galaxy. However, nestled within the stars of the constellation Andromeda is a faint patch of light from far beyond.

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.

What’s next after the shuttle?

Thirty years three months and several days ago, the twin Solid Rocket Boosters strapped to the space shuttle Challenger ignited in unison, discharging a wake of flames and propelling up, up, up against gravity’s pull and into low-earth orbit.

Look for the thunder

As the sun sets in the northwest at 8:31 Friday, July’s full moon rises in the southeast. Native American and folk lore call this the Thunder Moon, the Hay Moon and the Buck Moon. We’re all familiar with this moon’s strong, mid-summer storms, and farmers still begin their harvest of winter livestock feed at this time.

While the green flash of sunset it hard to spot, it is real

We usually focus on the darkened sky in this space, but these late summer sunsets provide a chance to glimpse a strange solar phenomenon. Simply called green flashes, these are bursts of light as the sun crosses the horizon line. Those who’ve seen it describe a green-colored, flame-like burst as the sun winks from sight. Perhaps you’ve already witnessed it and chalked it up to your eyes playing tricks.

The stars and planets are the original fireworks

While these are the shortest nights of the year, many a fond memory is set star-gazing on warm summer evenings. And in between the bursts of flame and the clouds of smoke honoring our independence this week, Friday’s new moon provides a dark backdrop highlighting the greatest show in the heavens.

Can you see the Milky Way?

A week after solstice, the 28th marks the latest sunset of the year, at 44 seconds past 8:35. And while a few bright lights will pierce the glare of twilight, it isn’t until nearly 10pm that the sky truly darkens and the stars start to shine.