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Sky Watch by J. Alex Knoll

Venus, Saturn and the moon make for a beautiful sight, but don’t read too much into it

Twilight Thursday and Friday reveals dazzling Venus low in the west with much fainter Spica less than two degrees below. Look for Saturn a dozen degrees above and to the left of this pairing.     In the half-hour following sunset Saturday, an ever-so-thin nascent crescent moon joins the party, hovering just above the western horizon to the lower right of Venus and Spica. To spot it, you will need good timing, an unimpeded view and maybe even binoculars.

Anyone can spot Venus, but what about Neptune 3 billion miles away?

The waning crescent moon graces our pre-dawn skies, appearing lower and lower in the east throughout the week. The morning of the 31st, look for it near bright Jupiter. The following morning you’ll find the moon midway between a triangle of bright stars: the Gemini twins Castor and Pollux and Procyon in Canis Minor. Monday before dawn, the moon lights the way to ruddy Mars, above and to the left in the gathering morning twilight.

But brilliant Sirius isn’t to blame

For kids heading back to school, summer has truly gone to the dogs. But neither that nor your canine companion panting on the cold basement floor is why the hottest days of the year are referred to as the Dog Days of summer. The answer shines in the heavens in the form of a star more than 81⁄2 light years away.

Full moon is like a celestial movie screen

As the sun sets, Venus beckons above the west horizon until it sets around 9pm. This evening star is losing ground, setting a little earlier each night.     Saturn is in the southwest at dusk and sets around midnight. Don’t confuse its steady golden glow with twinkling Spica a dozen degrees to its east.

With up to 100 meteors an hour, don’t miss the Perseids

This year’s Perseid meteor shower peaks late Sunday and Monday nights. And with the moon just a few days past new phase and setting in the early evening, the Perseids are worth staying up late or waking before the sun.     The Perseids are one of the great meteor showers of the year, and this year the International Meteor Organization predicts up to 100 an hour at the peak.

Its beauty aside, Venus is no place like home

As the suns sets and the sky darkens, Venus beckons in the west at the feet of Leo and less than 10 degrees from the lion’s heart, Regulus.     Venus is called our sister planet, but that puts a hellish twist on familial relationships. Yes, ­Venus and Earth are similar in size. And Venus has a gravitational field similar to that of Earth. Like Earth, Venus has a cloud-based atmosphere. But there the similarities end.

The summer Milky Way is backdrop for the Delta-Aquarid meteor shower

The moon wanes through morning skies, reaching last quarter on the 29th. That offers a chance to see the great Milky Way arcing across the heavens. You’ll need to escape any urban glare, but the reward is worth the effort. The Milky Way is our home galaxy, as well as home of all the stars you can see with the unaided eye. It encircles the globe and is visible from anywhere on earth, where we are looking edgewise into its center.

Bright pairings flank the full moon

Thursday the 18th, look to the lower left of the waxing gibbous moon for fiery Antares, the heart of Scorpius. Saturday, the near-full moon is less than 10 degrees below and to the right of Altair, the gleaming eye of Aquila the eagle and one of the three points in the Summer Triangle. Monday, the full moon blazes amid the dim stars of Capricorn. This moon is called the Buck Moon, the Thunder Moon and the Hay Moon.

It’s not enough to break the heat

If you’re up Friday or Saturday morning before dawn, look for the waning crescent moon low in the east-northeast. Friday look for the bright star Aldebaran, the heart of Taurus the bull, positioned just above the two points of the thin crescent, while farther to the north are Mars and Jupiter just reemerged from behind the glare of the sun. Saturday morning, the dwindling sliver of moon is just a few degrees above the two planets.

Lyra the harp has star upon star hidden amid its strings

As the sun dips toward the horizon around 8:30, Venus burns through the haze of twilight low in the west. By 9pm this evening star dominates the heavens, shining at magnitude –3.8 about 10 degrees above the skyline. With a clear view below Venus and perhaps binoculars, you may be able to spot Mercury tight against the horizon within a half-hour of sunset.