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Sky Watch by J. Alex Knoll

Jupiter and Venus bookend the edges of darkness

Darkness comes early, as we settle into Standard Time, with the sun setting around 4:55 at week’s end. We passed the mid-point of autumn early this month, and now we shed daylight fast in the march toward winter solstice. Every day until then, we shed almost a minute of sunlight each afternoon, and in the morning, when the sun rises around 6:45 at week’s end, we lose more than a minute each day.

The crescent moon peeks from behind the waning sun’s glare

The waning crescent moon makes a brief appearance low in the southeast early Friday morning in the half-hour leading to sunrise, at 7:37. A few degrees higher shines the unmistakable light of Venus, just returned to view after slipping from evening to pre-dawn skies. Ten degrees higher still shines the blue-white star Spica, and above that is Saturn, as bright as any star.

Autumn’s full moons help dispel the impending darkness

Sunset Friday the 22nd, at 6:17, reveals the full Hunter’s Moon rising in the east. Like all full moons, this one rises with sunset and sets with sunrise, around 7:25 this week. The full moon is always juxtaposed to the sun with earth right in the middle. As sunlight washes over the other side of the world, it spills around the planet, striking the face of the moon head-on. 

From Zeus’ paramour to Arthur’s kingdom

The waxing moon reaches first-quarter on the 14th, appearing due south as the sun sets, well before 6:30 this week, and setting around midnight. Each night the moon appears 15 degrees farther east at sunset, and each evening it sets almost an hour later. The night of the 19th, the gibbous moon passes six degrees north of brilliant Jupiter.  Jupiter, brighter than any star, beckons low in the east-southeast as darkness settles. Look for him high in the south around midnight and edging westward hour by hour before setting around 4am. 

In the case of brightness, less is more

 

The always puzzling Draconids

  Thursday’s new moon provides an unobscured backdrop for this year’s Draconid meteor shower, which peaks at week’s end. Not some early Halloween reference to Dracula, this annual meteor shower is named for the constellation Draco the dragon, from which the meteors seem to emanate. It’s tricky to predict the rate of the Draconids each year, but there is always the potential for some awesome stellar treats. 

Circling earth at more than 17,000 miles an hour, the International Space Station is a fleeting target

 

Look low in the west after sunset for your own UFO

 

All those phases are just figments of our own perception

 

While binoculars help reveal distant stars and planets, our own galaxy is disappearing before our very eyes