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Astronomy

30 Mar 2017
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In April 2017, bright and steady Jupiter is likely the first “star” to be spotted after sunset, south of east. Twinkling, blue-white Sirius, in the southwest quadrant, is next. Jupiter is at opposition to the sun, and above the horizon all night, on April 7-8; you can estimate the hour by noting the planet’s location—low in the eastern sky at dusk, high in the south in the middle of night, and low in the western sky at dawn. As morning twilight brightens, we find an even more spectacular planet, Venus, rising in the east, as Jupiter slinks off toward the western horizon. Before dawn brightens too much, locate Saturn in the south. Our evening sky chart plots daily positions of the brightest objects in the current month’s sky at mid-twilight. As April begins, the most-prominent objects, in order of brightness, are steady yellow-white Jupiter, climbing in the east to southeast…
27 Feb 2017
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This month’s selection of happenings includes the last evening and first morning appearances of Venus; the year’s most favorable apparition of Mercury; early evening moonrises; simultaneous views of planets low above opposite horizons (Mars-Jupiter and Mercury-Jupiter in the evening, with Venus-Jupiter in the morning); and a bright, far southern star, Canopus, reaching its high point very low over our southern mountains. Venus is still very prominent in the evening sky as this month opens, setting in a dark sky 2 1/2 hours after sunset on March 1. By March 17, Venus sets just one hour after sunset, and by March 21, Venus drops below the horizon barely half an hour after sunset. By that date, Venus is already rising ahead of the sun, and it’s possible to observe it at both dusk and dawn for a few days. Through a telescope or even 7-power binoculars, the planet displays a crescent—best…
31 Jan 2017
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Venus reaches peak brilliance, near magnitude -4.9, in February’s evening sky—giving rise to lots of UFO reports! Through a telescope or even 7-power binoculars, the planet displays an ever-larger and thinner crescent, especially if viewed in daytime or at sunset. Venus appears 39 percent full and a half-arcminute across on Feb. 1, and only 17 percent full and 0.8 arcminute across by Feb. 28. (One arcminute equals 1/60th of a degree.) Try locating Venus in daylight when it’s highest and due south: On Sunday, Feb. 5, Venus is 59 degrees up at 2:44 p.m.; Feb. 12, 62 degrees up at 2:32 p.m.; Feb. 19, 65 degrees up at 2:16 p.m.; Feb. 26, and 67 degrees up at 1:55 p.m. Find Venus easily with the unaided eye by sunset or shortly thereafter, 45 degrees to the sun’s upper left, on Feb. 1, to 33 degrees directly above the setting sun on…

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