CVIndependent

Sat02232019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Robert Victor

February offers beautiful sights for the unaided eye and the eye aided with binoculars—especially for early risers getting out an hour before sunrise.

There’ll be close pairings of the moon with bright Venus just before and after the shortest month of the year—on Jan. 31 and March 2—providing chances to spot Venus in the daytime with binoculars and even the unaided eye. Venus and Saturn will appear just 1.1 degrees apart on Feb. 18. It’ll be worthwhile to watch that pair for changes on several adjacent mornings.

Planets at dawn: The pairing of Venus and the crescent moon on Thursday, Jan. 31, will be unusually close and very striking, before dawn and even long after sunrise. From the Coachella Valley, Venus and the center of the moon’s disk will be just 1.5 degrees apart and closing at 5 a.m. Sunrise occurs in Palm Springs at 6:43 a.m., with Venus just more than a degree from the moon’s center, or three-quarters of a degree from the moon’s edge. The closest approach of the moon and Venus occurs in daytime, between 9:45 and 10 a.m., with Venus about 0.4 degrees—less than the moon’s half-degree width—from the moon’s northern cusp the (upper point of the crescent). From 8:30 a.m. through 11:15 a.m., Venus will appear no more than a moon’s width from the moon’s edge. A telescope at low power will fit Venus and the moon in the same field, with Venus showing a gibbous disk, 62 percent illuminated.

At the next, wider moon-Venus pairing on March 2, Venus will appear nearly 4 degrees to the lower left of the moon. A telescope then shows the planet’s phase increased to 73 percent full, but reduced in apparent size as it will be more distant from Earth.

Near the dates of these moon-Venus pairings, the moon can be seen close to two other planets in the morning sky: The moon will appear 5 degrees to the upper right of Jupiter on Jan. 30; 4 degrees to the lower left of Saturn on Feb. 2; within 2 degrees above Jupiter on Feb. 27; and 2 degrees to the upper right of Saturn on March 1.

Planets, stars and moon at dusk: Mars is high in the southwest to west-southwest, halfway or more from horizon to overhead. While fading slowly from magnitude +0.9 to +1.2, Mars is bright enough not to be confused with any star while the red planet passes through the background of Pisces and Aries. The brightest star nearby is second-magnitude Alpha in Aries, about 10 degrees north of the planet in late February. Begin looking for Mercury emerging from the far side of the sun around Feb. 10, when it shines at magnitude -1.3 and sets south of west at mid-twilight, about 40 minutes after sunset. Still bright at magnitude -0.3 when it climbs to 9 degrees up at mid-twilight on Feb. 26, Mercury then begins to fade more rapidly. It’s still magnitude 0.0 on March 1, but, moving to the near side of the sun and becoming a backlighted crescent, it fades beyond magnitude +1 by March 5 and drops back into bright twilight.

Stars and moon: The moon is visible at dusk from Feb. 5 (very low in the west-southwest in early dusk), through Feb. 19 (just past full, risen north of east). The moon passes 6 degrees south of Mars in Aries on Feb. 10; 1-2 degrees north of Aldebaran in Taurus on Feb. 13; 7 degrees south of Pollux on Feb. 16; and 7 degrees above Regulus in Leo at dusk on Feb. 18. That evening, the Earth passes between the sun and Regulus, and that star appears at opposition, 180 degrees from the sun. The direction of Earth’s orbital motion around the sun on this night is away from the Pleiades in the evening sky and toward a spot about 3 degrees west of the third-magnitude star Beta in the head of Scorpius in the morning sky. At the end of February, our planet is moving away from Aldebaran, eye of Taurus, and toward Antares, heart of Scorpius.

The huge Winter Hexagon occupies much of the southeast quadrant of the sky at dusk. Start with Sirius, its brightest star, and go clockwise around its perimeter, to Procyon, the Twins (Pollux and Castor), Capella, Aldebaran, Rigel and back to Sirius. Orion’s shoulder Betelgeuse is inside. Regulus rises into view at dusk during February and chases the Hexagon across the sky. Note Regulus about to set in the west on the morning twilight chart, available with the online version of this article.

Check the website of the Astronomical Society of the Desert at www.astrorx.org for dates and times of our evening star parties at two locations:Sawmill Trailhead, our high-altitude site (elevation 4,000 feet), will have a star party starting at dusk on Saturday, Feb. 2. The primary, more-accessible location is the Visitor Center of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument (on Highway 74, within 4 miles south of Highway 111 in Palm Desert). The next session there is on Saturday, Feb. 9, from 6 to 9 p.m. Listings of star parties on the website include maps and directions for both locations. Star parties can be cancelled in poor observing weather.

Also, remember to check the Impromptu Star Parties link on the webpage. I’ll be offering sky watches in Palm Springs at the pedestrian bridge over Tahquitz Creek at North Riverside Drive and Camino Real, including some at predawn to follow the three morning planets, and some at dawn or dusk to observe the moon’s conjunctions with planets.

Abrams Planetarium publishes a monthly Sky Calendar with an evening sky map. Subscriptions are $12 per year at www.abramsplanetarium.org/skycalendar for three printed issues mailed quarterly.

Wishing you clear skies!

Robert C. Victor was a staff astronomer at Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing sky watching opportunities for a variety of groups in the Coachella Valley. Robert D. Miller did graduate work in planetarium science and later astronomy and computer science at Michigan State University and remains active in research and public outreach in astronomy.

6:37 p.m. PST on Sunday, Jan. 20: The moon enters penumbra. The edge of the penumbral shadow will not be noticed, but the moon may seem especially bright then, because the moon most strongly reflects light back toward the source—the sun (and Earth, when the moon is just outside the Earth’s shadow). Look up opposition effect.

7:34 p.m.: Moon enters umbra. The moon begins to enter the dark central core of the Earth’s shadow. How long before this will you first notice the inner penumbral darkening on the moon’s east-southeast edge? How many minutes after first umbral contact will you notice the circular edge of the Earth’s shadow? When will you first notice any color within the shadow?

8:41 p.m.: Total eclipse begins. A few minutes before this time, the almost totally eclipsed moon, with a northwest-north-northwest narrow edge still in sunlight, is likely to be strikingly beautiful. Within the shadow, watch for reddish colors on the moon from sunlight which has passed through the Earth’s atmosphere and been refracted onto the moon. Use the 5-point Danjon scale and select the L number from 0 to 4, which best fits the description of the brightness and color of the moon in total eclipse. Use your own words to describe the eclipse! Repeat at greatest eclipse, and again at the end of totality. If you’re in a dark place during totality, enjoy views of the stars in the absence of bright moonlight. Look for the Beehive star cluster 6 degrees east of the moon.

9:12 p.m.: Greatest eclipse. The moon is closest to the center of the Earth’s shadow. Can you detect any color? Again, use the Danjon scale. Normally, we expect the eclipsed moon to appear darkest around this time. Note the “Twins” Pollux and Castor, 10-15 degrees to the upper left of the moon, and the “Little Dog” star Procyon, 17 degrees to the moon’s lower right.

9:43 p.m.: Total eclipse ends. Again, use the Danjon scale and your own words to describe the eclipse. Now, a few minutes after this time, when a narrow edge of direct sunlight illuminates the northeast edge of the moon, the nearly totally eclipsed moon is likely to be very beautiful.

10:51 p.m.: Moon leaves umbra, or dark central core of Earth’s shadow. How long after this time can you still notice any penumbral shading on the moon’s west-west-southwest edge?

11:48 p.m.: Moon leaves penumbra. You will not notice darkening near this time, but it is around this time we can expect the moon, just outside Earth’s shadow, to shine with extra brilliance. Adding to this opposition effect, the moon at perigee during this eclipse and the Earth-moon system being just a few weeks past perihelion (closest to Sun) combine to further increase the moon’s brightening.

• After January 20, 2019, the next total lunar eclipse visible in parts of U.S. will be on the morning of Wednesday, May 26, 2021; the total phase will be seen from all locations west of a line from east Texas/western Louisiana to eastern Montana. From California, the moon begins to enter umbra, or the dark central core of Earth’s shadow, at 2:45 a.m., followed by a brief, 15-minute totality from 4:11 a.m. until 4:26 a.m. The moon will then be low in the southwest, and morning twilight will be getting under way. The northern edge of the moon will be just barely within the umbra and should be noticeably brighter than the rest of the totally eclipsed moon. The star Beta in the head of Scorpius will be only two degrees north of the moon during totality. From the Coachella Valley, the moon will set a few minutes before completely exiting the umbra, but most of the California coast will be able to see the fully sunlit lunar disk for a few minutes after it departs from the umbra at 5:52 a.m.

• A very deep partial lunar eclipse (magnitude 97.4 percent) will be seen throughout the U.S. on the night of Nov. 18-19, 2021. From Western states, the moon enters the umbra at 11:19 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 18. Greatest eclipse occurs at 1:03 a.m. early on Friday morning, Nov. 19. A very narrow brightly sunlit southern edge of the moon remains outside the umbra at greatest eclipse, while the rest of the disk shows dark grey or rusty brown hues. It should be a beautiful sight! At deepest eclipse, the Pleiades star cluster will be within 6 degrees north of the moon. The moon moves completely out of the umbra at 2:47 a.m.

• A deep total lunar eclipse will be seen from the contiguous 48 states on the night of May 15-16, 2022. Some western states will miss the start of the initial umbral phase, and northwest Washington state misses the start of totality. From Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley, the moon hasn’t risen yet when it begins to enter the umbra on Sunday, May 15 at 7:28 p.m. The eclipse is total for 85 minutes beginning at 8:29 p.m., during evening twilight. At deepest eclipse at 9:11-9:12 p.m., the northern part of the totally eclipsed moon should appear very dark as it passes through the center of the Earth’s shadow. As totality ends at 9:54 p.m., the moon is 11 degrees east of Alpha Librae and 7 degrees west of Beta Scorpii. Note the reddish (eclipse-colored?) star Antares, heart of the Scorpion, 14 degrees to the lower left of the moon. The concluding partial eclipse ends as the moon completely leaves the umbra at 10:55 p.m.

• A deep total eclipse on morning of Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022 will be seen throughout U.S. For parts of the East Coast, the moon sets near the end of total eclipse. From California, the moon enters the umbra at 1:09 a.m. A long 85-minute totality, second of the year, occurs from 2:17 a.m. until 3:42 a.m. At deepest eclipse, at 2:59 a.m., the southern part of the moon should appear very dark as it passes through the center of Earth’s shadow. At the same time, Uranus, of magnitude 5.7, is easily seen in binoculars only 1.7 degrees to the upper left of the reddened moon; a telescope will reveal the planet’s greenish disk. The concluding partial eclipse ends at 4:49 a.m. as the moon completely leaves the umbra.

The opening month of 2019 features outstanding sights for the unaided eye, as well as the eye aided with binoculars and telescopes.

Who would fail to wonder at the sight of brilliant Venus near a predawn crescent moon? Separated in time by about a month, we have close pairings on Jan. 1 and 31, providing two easy chances to locate Venus in the daytime with the unaided eye and binoculars. Telescopic views reveal Venus’ changing phase, from 48 to 62 percent this month, and its shrinking apparent size as the planet moves from the near side toward the far side of its nearly circular orbit around the sun.

Venus in January shines at magnitude -4.6 to -4.3, faded some since its peak in early December, but still at its best for 2019. Rising in a dark sky three hours or more before sun-up, it remains impressive!

Another astronomical highlight is a total lunar eclipse, on Sunday, Jan. 20, during convenient evening hours. The partial phase of the eclipse gets under way at 7:34 p.m. as the moon begins to encounter the umbra, or dark central core of Earth’s shadow. After several minutes, the curvature of the shadow’s edge will become obvious. At 8:41 p.m., the eclipse becomes total, and remains so for 62 minutes, until 9:43 p.m. A complete timetable of the eclipse appears on the January 2019 Sky Calendar (click link or see below; right click on the image and view in a new window), which also provides illustrations of that month’s outstanding planetary and lunar gatherings described in the following paragraphs. See also our separate article on the eclipse.

With the deepest total eclipse happening at 9:12 p.m. PST, should you encourage young children to observe this lunar eclipse? Well, if you miss this opportunity, the next chance to catch one during convenient evening hours won’t come until May 2022.

Planets at dawn: On New Year’s morning, Jan. 1, around 6 a.m. in the Coachella Valley, face southeast to enjoy a predawn lineup of the crescent moon with three planets to its lower left, in order: Venus, Jupiter and Mercury. Venus then is within 4 degrees to the lower left of the crescent moon, with Jupiter 18 degrees to the lower left of Venus; and Mercury 13 degrees to the lower left of Jupiter. When the moon reaches its highest point in the south, around 8:22 a.m. that day, Venus is an easy find within 3 degrees to the moon’s lower left—even though it’s daytime. Watch the waning crescent moon slide downward past three planets before sun-up Jan. 1-4.

On Thursday, Jan. 3, Jupiter appears 4 degrees to the upper right of the moon, while Mercury appears 12 degrees to the moon’s lower left. On Jan. 4, Jupiter appears 16 degrees to the lower left of Venus, while the thin old moon appears the same distance to the lower left of Jupiter, with Mercury, in turn, 2.5 degrees to the lower right of the moon. Mercury is getting lower each morning. Its departure after a few more days leaves two bright planets remaining. Masquerading as the two brightest “stars” in the entire predawn sky, the Venus-Jupiter pair becomes ever more striking as it closes to 10 degrees apart on Jan. 11, 5 degrees on Jan. 17, and a shortest distance of 2.4 degrees on Jan. 22. On the latter date, use binoculars to try to see Saturn just emerging from the morning twilight glow, 28 degrees to the lower left of the bright pair. Rising longer ahead of the sun and higher each morning, Saturn within a few days will become easy to see with unaided eye, and we’ll again see three naked-eye planets. From late January through mid-February, their arrangement from the upper right to the lower left will be Jupiter-Venus-Saturn. The waning crescent moon slides past this lineup, producing close pairings with planets on Jan. 30-Feb. 2.

The pairing of Venus and the crescent moon on Thursday morning, Jan. 31, will be unusually close and very striking, before dawn and for long after sunrise. From the Coachella Valley, the angular distance between Venus and the center of the moon’s disk will be just 1.5 degrees and closing at 5 a.m. By 6 a.m., the distance closes to 1.2 degrees. Sunrise occurs in Palm Springs at 6:43 a.m., with Venus just more than a degree from the moon’s center, or three-fourths of a degree from the moon’s edge. The closest approach of the moon and Venus occurs in daytime hours, between 9:45 and 10 a.m., with Venus about 0.4 degrees—less than the moon’s half-degree width—from the moon’s northern cusp (the upper point of the crescent). From 8:30 through 11:15 a.m., Venus will appear no more than a moon’s width from the moon’s edge. A telescope at low power will fit Venus and the moon in the same field, with Venus showing at gibbous phase, 62 percent illuminated.

At dusk: Mars is high in the south-southwest to southwest at dusk, halfway or more from horizon to overhead. Although fading slowly from magnitude 0.5 to 0.9, Mars shouldn’t be confused with any star while the red planet passes through the background of Pisces, which includes no stars brighter than magnitude 3.6.

In early January at dusk, the Summer Triangle of Vega, Altair and Deneb is still easy to see, with Vega and Deneb above in the northwest, and Altair in the west. Fomalhaut, mouth of the Southern Fish, is in the south-southwest, and the earliest stars of winter—Capella in the northeast to east-northeast, and Aldebaran in the east—are prominent. Although Aldebaran marks the eye of Taurus, its Arabic name means “The Follower,” of the Pleiades star cluster 14 degrees above it.

By early January, Orion’s Betelgeuse and Rigel, with his vertical three-star belt between them, have appeared above the eastern horizon. Two more of winter’s bright stars soon follow: Watch for their risings in twilight, by mid-January—first, Procyon in the east, and finally Sirius, the brightest nighttime star, in the east-southeast, below and in line with Orion’s belt. Sirius completes the nearly equilateral Winter Triangle with Procyon and Betelgeuse. When Sirius first appears low in the east-southeast, Altair is still visible, very low just north of west (if no mountains block your view), and both the Summer and Winter Triangles can be seen simultaneously.

The waxing moon returns to the early evening twilight scene as a thin crescent low in the southwest to west-southwest on Jan. 6; passes Mars on Jan. 12; skips past Aldebaran Jan. 16-17; and appears full to the lower right of the “Twin” stars Pollux and Castor on Sunday, Jan. 20, the same evening as the total lunar eclipse.

The website of the Astronomical Society of the Desert (www.astrorx.org) has a listing of our evening star parties at two locations. Sawmill Trailhead, our high-altitude site (elevation 4,000 feet), will have a star party starting at dusk on Saturday, Jan. 5. Our primary, more-accessible star-party site is the Visitor Center of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, on Highway 74, within 4 miles south of Highway 111 in Palm Desert. Our next monthly star party there is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 12, from 5 to 8 p.m. Star parties can be cancelled in poor observing weather.

Also, check the Impromptu Star Parties link. I’ll be offering sky watches in Palm Springs at the pedestrian bridge over Tahquitz Creek at North Riverside Drive and Camino Real, including some in predawn to follow Venus’ conjunctions with the moon and other planets. Members of the Astronomical Society of the Desert may be offering a lunar eclipse watch at one or more locations on Sunday, Jan. 20.

On Friday, Jan. 18, I’ll present a preview of 2019’s sky events, including Sunday’s total lunar eclipse, and the year’s beautiful planetary gatherings. The talk begins at 7 p.m. at the Portola Community Center, 45480 Portola Ave., in Palm Desert.

Abrams Planetarium publishes a monthly Sky Calendar with an evening sky map. Subscriptions are $12 per year at www.abramsplanetarium.org/skycalendar for three printed issues mailed quarterly. The January 2019 issue of the calendar features the total lunar eclipse happening after nightfall on Jan. 20, and the four bright planets in the morning sky.

Wishing you clear skies!

Robert C. Victor was a staff astronomer at Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing sky watching opportunities for a variety of groups in the Coachella Valley. Robert D. Miller did graduate work in planetarium science and later astronomy and computer science at Michigan State University and remains active in research and public outreach in astronomy.

In December 2018, Venus is an outstanding predawn sight for the unaided eye, as well as binoculars and telescopes.

Who would fail to wonder at the sight of brilliant Venus near a predawn crescent moon? Separated in time by about a month, Venus-moon pairings on Dec. 3 and Jan. 1 provide easy chances to locate Venus in the daytime with the unaided eye. Telescopic views reveal Venus’ changing phase—28 and 48 percent on those respective dates—coupled with a shrinking apparent size as the planet recedes from Earth. When Venus appears half-full just a few days into the new year, it will be “rounding the bend,” moving from the near side into the far side of its nearly circular orbit around the sun, as Venus’ orbit is viewed nearly edge-on from planet Earth.

Venus, about 25 percent full in early December, gleams at magnitude -4.9, as bright as it ever gets. Rising in a dark sky more than three hours before sunup, it’s truly very impressive!

At dawn: On Saturday, Dec. 2, an hour before sunrise, Venus appears 17 degrees to the lower left of a waning crescent moon, and 7 degrees to the lower left of blue-white first-magnitude star Spica. On Monday, Dec. 3, Venus will appear only 4 degrees to the lower right of the moon. To catch Venus at its best, I am leading sky-watching sessions in Palm Springs from 5 to 5:45 a.m. on both those mornings, if sky is clear, on the pedestrians-only bridge over Tahquitz Creek, at Camino Real between North and South Riverside drives. Parking is available on Camino Real, both north and south of the bridge.

On Dec. 4, the moon has moved 10 degrees to the lower left of Venus, and Mercury is visible in binoculars 17 degrees to the lower left of Venus. On Dec. 5, the last old crescent moon easy to see with the unaided eye is 22 degrees to the lower left of Venus, with brightening Mercury just 4 degrees below the thin moon. Mercury then begins a nearly month-long appearance low in the east-southeast to southeast, to the lower left of Venus.

On Dec. 6, if skies are very clear just 30 minutes before sunrise, if you use binoculars and have an unobstructed view toward the east-southeast, you’ll have a chance to spot a very thin, old crescent moon only 17 hours before new, rising 35 degrees to the lower left of Venus and 10 degrees to the lower left of Mercury. We might even spot Jupiter just 3 degrees to the lower right of the hyper-thin moon. I have selected a site in a residential area on the high slopes of northwestern Palm Springs with an excellent view of these rare events on the morning of Dec. 6; watch the Independent’s social media for an announcement of the location if the weather allows for it.

From Dec. 7-21, the moon is absent from the morning twilight sky. Within a few days, Jupiter becomes easy for unaided eye, staying 9 degrees to the lower left of Mercury through Dec. 11 as both rise higher daily. For several mornings, the arrangement of three planets from upper right to lower left is Venus-Mercury-Jupiter. But Mercury, entering the far side of its orbit beyond the sun, passes just 0.9 degrees to the upper left of Jupiter on Dec. 21—look for the striking pair 26 degrees to the lower left of Venus. Thereafter, until Mercury sinks into the sun’s glare in early January, the order of the three planets is Venus-Jupiter-Mercury.

The moon returns to the morning sky, fully illuminated, low in the west-northwest in dawn mid-twilight on Dec. 22. The waning gibbous moon will pass 8-12 degrees to the left of the Twins, Pollux and Castor, on Dec. 24, and 3 degrees to the right of Regulus, heart of Leo, on Dec. 26. A fat crescent moon, just past last quarter (half-full) phase, will appear within 7 degrees to the upper left of Spica in Virgo on Dec. 30. The waning crescent moon will appear within 4 degrees to the upper right of Venus on New Year’s morning, and slide downward past Antares, Jupiter and Mercury over the next three mornings.

At dusk: Mars is high in the sky, halfway from horizon to overhead, in the southern sky in December. Although fading slowly from magnitude 0 to +0.4, Mars shouldn’t be confused with any star this month, while the red planet passes through the background of Aquarius and Pisces, which include no stars brighter than magnitude 3. Saturn can be glimpsed very low in the southwest to west-southwest in early December, before its conjunction with the sun on Jan. 1.

In early December, the Summer Triangle of Vega, Altair and Deneb is still well up in the western sky. Fomalhaut, mouth of the Southern Fish, is in the south. The earliest harbinger stars of winter—Capella in the northeast and Aldebaran lower in the east-northeast—have arrived. Aldebaran, eye of Taurus and “Follower” of the Pleiades star cluster, is at opposition to the sun on Dec. 1 and visible from dusk to dawn.

The waxing moon appears at dusk as a thin crescent very low in the southwest to west-southwest, 3 degrees to the lower right of Saturn on Dec. 8, and 9 degrees to the upper left of Saturn on the next evening. The moon appears almost half-full, 4 degrees to the lower left of Mars, high in south on Dec. 14, and almost full, 3 degrees to the upper right of Aldebaran in the east, on Dec. 20. On Dec. 22, the full moon appears very low in the east-northeast at dusk, opposite to the sun’s direction below the west-southwest horizon. By then, Orion’s Betelgeuse and Rigel have appeared above the eastern horizon. The rest of early winter’s bright stars soon follow. Watch for their risings a little later in the evening in December, or in twilight by mid-January, in this order: Castor, Pollux, Procyon and finally Sirius, the brightest nighttime star. Sirius completes the nearly equilateral Winter Triangle with Procyon and Betelgeuse. As a check, Orion’s belt points downward toward Sirius rising in the east-southeast. When Sirius first appears, Altair is still visible, low, just north of west (if mountains don’t block your view)—and both the Summer and Winter Triangles can be seen simultaneously.

After nightfall: Here’s an easy chance to see our solar system’s two outermost planets. At the end of evening twilight, as soon as the sky becomes fully dark, 5.7-magnitude Uranus is visible in binoculars, closely north-northeast to north of 4.3-magnitide Omicron in Pisces. Point your telescope at Mars, and you’ll find eighth-magnitude Neptune in the same low-power field for four evenings: within 1 degree east-northeast of Mars on Dec. 5; one-third of a degree east-northeast of Mars on Dec. 6; one-third of a degree west-southwest of Mars on Dec. 7; and 1 degree west-southwest of Mars on Dec. 8. To distinguish Uranus and Neptune from faint stars, use these finder charts provided by Sky and Telescope magazine: www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/ice-giants-neptune-and-uranus.

Star parties: The website of the Astronomical Society of the Desert at www.astrorx.org has a listing of our evening star parties at two locations. Sawmill Trailhead, our high-altitude site (elevation 4,000 feet), will have a star party starting at dusk on Saturday, Dec. 8. Our primary, more-accessible star-party site is the Visitor Center of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, on Highway 74, within 4 miles south of Highway 111 in Palm Desert. Our next monthly star party there is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 15, from 5 to 8 p.m. Star parties can be cancelled in poor observing weather. Also, check the Impromptu Star Parties link. I’ll be offering sky watches in Palm Springs at the pedestrian bridge over Tahquitz Creek at North Riverside Drive and Camino Real.

Abrams Planetarium publishes a monthly Sky Calendar with an evening sky map. Subscriptions are $12 per year at www.abramsplanetarium.org/skycalendar for three printed issues mailed quarterly. The January 2019 issue of the calendar and this column in Coachella Valley Independent will preview the total lunar eclipse happening after nightfall on Jan. 20, and the four bright planets in the morning sky.

Wishing you clear skies!

Robert C. Victor was a staff astronomer at Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing sky watching opportunities for a variety of groups in the Coachella Valley. Robert D. Miller did graduate work in planetarium science and later astronomy and computer science at Michigan State University and remains active in research and public outreach in astronomy.

In November 2018, Venus is the up-and-coming morning “star.”

Next inward from Earth in our solar system, fast-moving Venus overtook our planet in late October while passing nearly between Earth and sun. Day by day in November, Venus rockets higher into the southeastern morning sky. Rising in twilight a full hour before sunup by Nov. 4, Venus’ rising time improves to two hours before sunup on Nov. 13, and three hours before on Nov. 27. (Graphic credit: Jeffrey L. Hunt.)

As it becomes visible in a dark predawn sky before the onset of twilight, Venus also increases in brilliance to magnitude -4.9—as bright as it ever gets. That’s easily bright enough to spot it in the daytime. One easy way to do that is to find Venus before sunup, and keep track of it until after sunrise.

This is the best time to enjoy Venus through a telescope, or even binoculars. On Nov. 1, Venus shows as a very thin crescent, less than 2 percent illuminated, and a full arcminute (one 60th of a degree) across. A magnification of just 30 power then makes Venus appear a half-degree across, about as large as the moon with the unaided eye. The illuminated portion of the crescent Venus thickens to 5 percent by Nov. 7; 10 percent by Nov. 13; 15 percent by the 19th; and 25 percent by the 30th. By month’s end, the apparent size of Venus has shrunk to 0.7 arcminute—still large enough to resolve the crescent shape with 7-power binoculars.

Observe Venus early enough for the sky to be dark—an hour before sunrise is enough—and you’ll notice it has a stellar companion close by. It’s blue-white first-magnitude Spica, within 5 degrees of Venus Nov. 4-28; within 2 degrees Nov. 10-19; and as close as 1 1/4 degrees on Nov. 14. This type of pairing—where a planet approaches a star or another planet within 5 degrees, but doesn’t pass it—is called a quasi-conjunction. You might think of this month’s rare Venus-Spica event to be a “kissing conjunction,” where the participants get so close … but then one of them has a change of mind.

Enjoy these various aspects of Venus this month, despite the early hour, especially after we change our clocks back to standard time on Nov. 4. You won’t regret it!

Our morning twilight map for November shows Venus ascending over the east-southeast horizon to join Spica. Next in brilliance after Venus is Sirius, the Dog Star, in the southwest. It is the southern vertex of the huge Winter Hexagon, also including (in clockwise order) Procyon, Pollux and Castor; Capella at the northern vertex; Aldebaran; and Rigel, with Betelgeuse inside. Regulus, heart of Leo, follows the Hexagon across the sky, and golden orange Arcturus follows Regulus. The waning crescent moon appears near Regulus on the mornings of Nov. 1 and 2. On Sunday, Nov. 4, get out early to watch for Venus rising 26 degrees below the moon. On the 5th, the moon is 13 degrees to the upper left of Venus, and on the 6th, the last thin old crescent moon, some 25 1/2 hours before the new moon, is 9 degrees to the lower left of Venus.

The moon returns to the scene on Thanksgiving morning, Nov. 22, with the nearly full moon about to set in the west-northwest, 19 degrees to the lower right of Aldebaran, and 13 degrees to the lower left of the Pleiades star cluster. On this date, Spaceship Earth is heading directly toward Regulus, 90 degrees from the sun, and is passing between the Pleiades and the sun—so that cluster is at opposition, setting in the west-northwest as the sun rises in the east-southeast. Go out that morning, and visualize the motion of Earth around the sun, with Venus pulling farther ahead of us. The stars drift farther west each day, as shown by their tracks on the twilight maps—a direct result of the Earth’s revolution around the sun. Venus will “round the bend” in our view of its orbit in early January 2019, and next will head toward the far side of the sun, where it will pass, invisibly, in August.

On the mornings of Nov. 23 and 24, the moon will leapfrog past Aldebaran. The waning gibbous moon will appear to the lower left of the “Twin” stars Pollux and Castor on the morning of Nov. 26, and to their upper left the next morning. The moon will appear closely to the upper left of Regulus on Nov. 29.

On our evening twilight chart for November, the Summer Triangle passes west of overhead; Mars remains in the south-southeast with Fomalhaut lower down; and Saturn gets lower in the southwest. Arcturus sinks into the west-northwest twilight glow, while replacement Capella ascends in the northeast. Late in the month, below the Pleiades, watch for Aldebaran rising in the east-northeast to the lower right of Capella. Binoculars, very clear skies and an unobstructed view toward the west-southwest to southwest will be needed to spot Jupiter and Mercury, and only early in month. If all these conditions are met, you might try for Mercury 5-6 degrees to the left of Jupiter on Nov. 1 and 2. Jupiter drops out, but Mercury lingers for another week. Try for Mercury 9 degrees to the left of the 2 percent crescent young moon on Nov. 8, and 7-8 degrees below the 6 percent moon on Nov. 9.

It will be much easier to spot Saturn within 8 degrees to the upper left of the moon on Nov. 10, and within 5 degrees to the lower right of the moon on Nov. 11. Mars will appear only about 2 degrees to the upper left of the 54 percent moon, just past first quarter phase, on Nov. 15. One week after it passes Mars, on Thanksgiving evening, Nov. 22, the full moon will rise just 3 minutes after sunset, although with all the mountains surrounding us, it would be impossible to verify. That evening, as the sky darkens, look for the Pleiades cluster 9 degrees to the moon’s upper left, and Aldebaran, the “follower” of the Pleiades, 11 degrees to the moon’s lower left. On the next night, Nov. 23, the moon rises about 50 minutes after sunset. Look for Aldebaran 3-4 degrees to the upper right of the rising moon. Binoculars will help. On Sunday, Nov. 25, the month’s northernmost moonrise occurs 2 hours and 40 minutes after sunset, well after the end of twilight, so the sky will be very dark for a short time before it brightens again due to moonlight. Within an hour after the moon appears, look for Orion to the right of the moon, and the “Twin” stars Pollux and Castor, 12-14 degrees to the moon’s left.

The website of the Astronomical Society of the Desert at www.astrorx.org has a listing of our evening star parties at two locations. Sawmill Trailhead, our high-altitude site (elevation 4,000 feet), will have a star party starting at dusk on Saturday, Nov. 10. Our primary, more-accessible star-party site is the Visitor Center of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, on Highway 74, within 4 miles south of Highway 111 in Palm Desert. Our next monthly star party there is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 17, from 5 to 8 p.m. Also, beginning in late October, check the Impromptu Star Parties link. I’ll be offering sky watches in Palm Springs at the pedestrian bridge over Tahquitz Creek at North Riverside Drive and Camino Real—at dusk to catch Saturn while it’s still visible, and at dawn to welcome Venus as the morning star.

Abrams Planetarium publishes a monthly Sky Calendar with an evening sky map. Subscriptions are $12 per year at www.abramsplanetarium.org/skycalendar for three printed issues mailed quarterly.

Wishing you clear skies!

Robert C. Victor was a staff astronomer at Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing sky watching opportunities for a variety of groups in the Coachella Valley. Robert D. Miller did graduate work in planetarium science and later astronomy and computer science at Michigan State University and remains active in research and public outreach in astronomy.

The moon passes the three bright outer planets at dusk Oct. 11-18. Venus, in transition from the evening to the morning sky, is lost in sun’s glare for most of month. Around Halloween, Arcturus, low in west-northwest at dusk, leads a procession of bright stars through the night, and brings up the rear low in the east-northeast at dawn.

At dusk: In early October, Venus sets very soon after sunset; it shows up on our evening twilight sky map for just the first few days of the month. Look for soon-to-depart Jupiter very low in the southwest to west-southwest; Saturn in the south-southwest; and Mars in the south-southeast. Before month’s end, Mercury begins an unfavorable evening appearance during which it will remain very low. Binoculars will come in handy for spotting Mercury within 5 degrees of Jupiter Oct. 25-Nov. 1. They’re closest, 3.2 degrees apart, on Oct. 28.

Stars: Arcturus is in the west to west-northwest; the Summer Triangle of Vega, Altair and Deneb is overhead; Antares is in the southwest to the lower right of Saturn; and Fomalhaut is low in the southeast. Capella rises into view in the north-northeast.

The moon: Use binoculars to catch the young crescent moon before it sets within 10 degrees south of west very soon after sunset on Oct. 9. Follow the moon daily at evening mid-twilight, starting as a thin crescent, very low in west-southwest on Oct. 10, and ending full, just risen north of east, on Oct. 24. Watch the waxing crescent moon pass Jupiter on Oct. 11 and Saturn on Oct. 14. On the evenings of Oct. 17 and 18, the gibbous moon appears near Mars.

At dawn: No planets show up on our morning mid-twilight sky map (below), but Venus,beginning a morning appearance, rises just 30 minutes before the sun on Oct. 31. Early in the month, can you spot Canopus as it passes 3 degrees above the horizon, due south? The huge Winter Hexagon is then centered high in the southern sky. Starting at Sirius, its brightest and southernmost star, and going clockwise, we find Procyon; the “Twin” stars, Pollux and Castor; Capella at the northern vertex; Aldebaran; and Rigel. Reddish Betelgeuse lies inside the Hexagon. Chasing the Hexagon across the sky is Leo, the Lion, whose brightest star is Regulus. In mid-October, Arcturus rises into view in the east-northeast, followed by Spica in the east-southeast just before month’s end. Using binoculars, look about 15 minutes before sunrise at month’s end, and you might spot a crescent Venus just risen in the east-southeast. It’ll be much easier to spot Venus in November, when it will rise farther ahead of the sun.

Follow the waning moon in the mornings Oct. 1-8. On Oct. 1, it’s above Betelgeuse in the south. On Oct. 2, the moon passes last-quarter phase, half full in Gemini, and 90 degrees or one-quarter circle west of the sun. On Oct. 3, the moon passes south of Pollux, and on Oct. 5 and 6, it’s near Regulus. The last easy chance to see the old moon will be on Oct. 7, followed by a challenging ultra-thin crescent for binoculars 2 degrees up in the east 25 minutes before sunrise on Oct. 8. Another round of morning twilight moon viewing begins with the full moon low in the west on Oct. 24. The waning gibbous moon will appear near Aldebaran on the morning of Oct. 27. On Oct. 30, the moon is nearly between Pollux and Procyon. On Oct. 31, for the second time this month, the moon reaches last quarter phase.

October’s all-night parade of stars: Each year around Oct. 29-30, there is a procession of bright stars across the night sky from dusk until dawn. Arcturus, low in west-northwest at dusk, leads the parade. On the evening map, Arcturus is followed by the Summer Triangle (Vega, Altair and Deneb), which, in turn, is followed by another geometric figure, the Great Square of Pegasus. Rising into view in the east-northeast before evening twilight ends is the Pleiades star cluster, or Seven Sisters. Following the Pleiades is Aldebaran, whose name translated from Arabic means “the follower,” although the star also marks the eye of Taurus, the Bull.

Rising later in evening, after Aldebaran, is Orion, the Hunter, with the “Mother goat” star Capella far to his north, and Gemini the Twins to his northeast. Rising after Orion are his two dog stars, Sirius in Canis Major, and Procyon in Canis Minor.Several of these stars form the huge, aforementioned Winter Hexagon, or Winter Ellipse, following the Pleiades across the sky. Leo, the Lion, including the bright star Regulus, follows the Winter Hex. Maybe Leo is checking out his menu,which includes a Hunter (Orion, with Rigel and Betelgeuse), some beef (Taurus with Aldebaran), a mother goat (Capella in Auriga, the Charioteer), Twins (Pollux and Castor in Gemini) and two dogs (Canis Major and Canis Minor, including Sirius and Procyon). The next bright star after Leo’s Regulus is Arcturus, low in east-northeast as morning twilight begins. And so, this golden-orange star, symbolic of autumn colors, both leads the procession of stars through the night skies of late October … and brings up the rear! This happens each year as the sun passes 33 degrees due south of Arcturus a day or two before Halloween. The Summer Triangle will fill this same role, as leader and follower in an all-night procession of stars, in mid-January.

Star parties: The website of the Astronomical Society of the Desert at www.astrorx.org has a listing of our evening star parties at two locations: Sawmill Trailhead, our high-altitude site (elevation 4,000 feet), will have our monthly star party starting at dusk on Saturday, Oct. 6. Our primary, more-accessible star-party site for most of the year is the Visitor Center of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, on Highway 74, within four miles south of Highway 111 in Palm Desert. Monthly star parties held there will resume on Saturday, Oct. 13. Listings of star parties on the website include maps and directions for both locations. Star parties can be cancelled in poor observing weather.

Also, beginning in late October, check the Impromptu Star Parties link on the webpage. I’ll be offering sky watches in Palm Springs at the pedestrian bridge over Tahquitz Creek at North Riverside Drive and Camino Real—some at dusk to catch Saturn while it’s still visible, and some at dawn to welcome Venus as morning star.

Abrams Planetarium publishes a monthly Sky Calendar with an evening sky map. Subscriptions are $12 per year at www.abramsplanetarium.org/skycalendar for three printed issues mailed quarterly. The current 50th Anniversary issue for October 2018 is available below.

Wishing you clear skies!

Robert C. Victor was a staff astronomer at Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing sky watching opportunities for a variety of groups in the Coachella Valley. Robert D. Miller did graduate work in planetarium science and later astronomy and computer science at Michigan State University and remains active in research and public outreach in astronomy.

Four planets are still visible at dusk, until Venus departs in early October. Venus is very low in the west-southwest, with Jupiter in the southwest, and Mars in the south-southeast, standing out in brilliance. As Earth recedes from Mars, the red planet slips to third place in brightness, after Venus and Jupiter. Saturn, in the south, ranks sixth, a little fainter than the stars Arcturus in the west, and Vega just north of overhead.

Other bright stars: Spica is 1.3 degrees to the upper right of Venus on Sept. 1 and sinks into bright twilight to the lower right of Venus by midmonth. Use binoculars to keep seeing Spica for a while longer. Antares is below a line joining Jupiter and Saturn. Altair and Deneb complete the Summer Triangle with Vega.

Follow the moon from a thin crescent very low in the west on Sept. 10, to full, low south of east, on Sept. 24. Watch the moon pass four planets and two first-magnitude stars Sept. 11-20.

If you have access to a telescope, set it up, and share views of these showpiece planets! For the best results, begin your observations no later than a half-hour after sunset, to catch Venus low in west-southwest before it drops even lower, and conclude with Mars, climbing in the south-southeast. Observe the planets in order from west to east, allowing you time to savor close-ups of each:

1. See Venus as a crescent, 40 percent full on Sept. 1, narrowing to 17 percent on the 30th. Venus reaches peak brilliance late in the month, and the crescent becomes ever more impressive: On Sept. 1, the disk is 30 arcseconds across—1/120 of a degree, big enough for a 32-power telescope to make it appear as large as the moon with the unaided eye—and grows in apparent size by more than 50 percent by month’s end, as Venus decreases its distance from Earth by more than a third. To reduce the planet’s glare against a darkened sky, look in daylight, or very soon after sunset, and even ordinary 7- or 8-power binoculars will reveal the crescent!

2. Just 23 to 14 degrees to the upper left of Venus, find Jupiter. A telescope may show up to four of its bright moons, discovered by Galileo.

3. Next, 45 to 41 degrees to the upper left of Jupiter, find Saturn. A telescope shows its rings now tipped nearly 27 degrees into our view—this year’s best view, and the best until 2032—and Saturn’s largest satellite, Titan, in a 16-day orbit nine times farther out than the rings’ outer edge, in the same plane.

4. Finally, 27 to 33 degrees to the lower left or left of Saturn, find Mars. After nightfall, binoculars show an attractive, compact, 2-by-1 degree, kite-shaped asterism of four stars, the “Territory of Dogs,” just west of Mars, in the same field. Through a telescope, the red planet may still show a tiny remnant of the south polar cap of frozen carbon dioxide, greatly shrunken in its late spring season, and dark surface features, such as Syrtis Major, provided that Martian dust storms don’t obscure our view. Visit the Sky Calendar extra content page at abramsplanetarium.org/msta to read the Chinese legend about the Territory of Dogs, and for details on observing Mars close up, explanations of the graphs of planet rising/setting times, the evening and morning twilight charts, January’s total lunar eclipse, and more.

Autumn begins on Saturday, Sept. 22, at 6:54 p.m., as the sun passes directly over Earth’s equator. On Monday, Sept. 24, the full harvest moon rises just 4 degrees south of due east at 6:52 p.m., within a quarter-hour after sunset. The moon rises in twilight on next two nights in Palm Springs, at 7:24 p.m. on Sept. 25, and at 7:57 p.m. on Sept. 26. Rising later and farther north each evening, by Sept. 29, the moon rises in the east-northeast at 9:53 p.m., and two nights later, on Oct. 1, the northernmost moonrise occurs at 11:35 p.m.

The best dates for the early-evening viewing of the Milky Way at the end of evening twilight, with little or no moonlight, are through Sept. 11, and Sept. 28-Oct. 11. From a dark location, follow the Milky Way band from the “cloud of steam” (Greater Sagittarius Star Cloud) just above the spout of the Teapot, through the Cygnus Star Cloud along the neck of the Swan within the Summer Triangle, and beyond. Viewed through binoculars, the Cygnus Star Cloud, part of our own spiral arm, easily resolves into stars.

September in morning mid-twilight: Early this month, bright Mercury is still visible low in the east to east-northeast, getting lower each morning as it heads toward the far side of the sun, while faint Regulus, heart of Leo, emerges higher daily, owing to Earth’s revolution around the sun. Mercury and Regulus appear closest, 1.2 degrees apart, on Sept. 6. Binoculars will come in handy for seeing the pair in same field low in twilight for a few mornings around that date. The old crescent moon appears near Regulus on Sept. 8.

Stars: Beginning with the brightest star, Sirius, in the southeast, go clockwise around the “Winter Hexagon” to Procyon, Pollux, Castor, Capella, Aldebaran, Rigel and back to Sirius. (If you count the Twin stars Pollux and Castor as one vertex of the polygon, then it’s a Hexagon, with Betelgeuse inside.) Regulus in Leo is chasing the Hexagon across the sky. The only other bright star up in morning twilight, in the northwest, is Deneb, the last Summer Triangle star to disappear.

Follow the waning moon in the morning sky Sept. 1-8. Watch it leapfrog over the Hyades cluster and Aldebaran Sept. 2-3, and pass 10 degrees south (to the lower right) of Pollux on Sept. 6, and 1.4 degrees north (to the upper left) of Regulus on Sept. 8. Bright Mercury is 4.5 degrees to the lower left of the moon-Regulus pair that morning. The moon begins another pass through the morning sky on Sept. 24, with the not-quite-full moon setting just south of west. On the morning of Sept. 30, the 70 percent waning gibbous moon is 3 degrees east of Aldebaran. Binoculars will easily show the bright star in the same field, and some stars of the Hyades cluster a little farther from the moon.

The website of the Astronomical Society of the Desert at www.astrorx.org has a listing of our evening star parties at two locations. Sawmill Trailhead (SMT), our high-altitude site (elevation 4,000 feet), will have star parties starting at dusk on Saturday, Sept. 8 and Oct. 6. Monthly star parties resume on Saturday, Oct. 13, at our more accessible site, the Visitor Center of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, on Highway 74, within 4 miles south of Highway 111 in Palm Desert.

Abrams Planetarium publishes a monthly Sky Calendar with an evening sky map Subscriptions are $12 per year, for three printed issues mailed quarterly. The current set includes the 50th anniversary issue, for October 2018. Subscribe or view a sample back issue at www.abramsplanetarium.org/skycalendar.

Robert C. Victor was a staff astronomer at Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing sky watching opportunities for a variety of groups in the Coachella Valley. Robert D. Miller did graduate work in planetarium science and later astronomy and computer science at Michigan State University and remains active in research and public outreach in astronomy. Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt, a retired planetarium director now living in the Chicago area, made the rising/setting sky charts below; he has taught astronomy and sky watching to all ages. He studied astronomy education at Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University. Jeff writes an astronomy blog at jeffreylhunt.wordpress.com and can be followed on Twitter at @jeff_hunt.

Evenings in August feature a spectacular panorama of four planets, including Venus, Jupiter and Mars far outshining all nighttime stars, and Saturn, ranking sixth in brilliance, after only those three planets and the stars Arcturus and Vega.

Set up a telescope and share views of these four showpiece planets. For best results, view them in order from west to southeast at dusk: 1. Venus changes from gibbous to crescent phase, 57 percent full on Aug. 1, to 40 percent on the 31st. (Venus will be even more impressive in September, as it goes through thinner crescent phases, with the disk growing in apparent size as Venus approaches Earth.) 2. Jupiter shows its cloud belts and as many as all four of the bright moons discovered by Galileo. 3. Saturn displays its rings still tipped a generous 26 degrees into our view, with satellite Titan in a 16-day orbit. 4. Mars’ south polar cap of frozen carbon dioxide is shrinking with the advance of its spring season—look soon! View other surface features, such as Syrtis Major and Hellas Basin, provided that Martian dust storms don’t obscure our view.

Catch Mercury low in the east-northeast to east during morning twilight in late August and early September.

August is a prime month for early evening viewing of the Milky Way. The best dates—at the end of evening twilight, with no moonlight—are Aug. 1-13, and Aug. 30-Sept. 11. From a dark location, follow the Milky Way band from the “cloud of steam” (the Greater Sagittarius Star Cloud) just above the spout of the Teapot, through the Cygnus Star Cloud along the neck of the Swan within the Summer Triangle, and beyond. Viewed through binoculars, the Cygnus Star Cloud easily resolves into stars.

Aug. 1 at dusk: Four planets—in order from west to southeast, Venus-Jupiter-Saturn-Mars—span 127 degrees. A line from Venus to Jupiter, 49 degrees long, extended its own length past Jupiter locates Saturn. Extend another 30 degrees past Saturn to find Mars. Telescopes now show Venus as a gibbous disk 57 percent lit. Mars, just two nights past closest approach, still shines at magnitude -2.8 and shows a disk large enough for a magnification of 80-power to make it look as large as the moon with the unaided eye!

Aug. 4, dawn: It’s the last quarter (half) moon.

Aug. 5, dusk: Venus and Jupiter are 45 degrees apart; Saturn and Mars are 27 degrees apart through Sept. 5.

Aug. 6, predawn: The crescent moon, Hyades and Aldebaran look spectacular in binoculars! While you’re out with your binoculars, view the Pleiades “Seven Sisters” cluster about 14 degrees above Aldebaran.

Aug. 6, dusk: Earth’s current orbital velocity around the sun is 18 miles per second, toward the constellation Aries in the morning sky, and directly away from Jupiter and the constellation Libra in the evening sky. An hour after sunset, when the sun is below the west-northwest horizon, try to visualize the motions of all the planets visible at the time. An observer viewing from north, or “above,” the solar system, from the direction of the constellation Draco, would observe all the planets revolving counterclockwise around the sun. Venus, moving faster, is catching up with Earth and will overtake us in late October. In the last three months, we have overtaken all three bright outer planets—Jupiter in early May, Saturn in late June, and Mars in late July (on dates of their oppositions). We are now headed directly away from Jupiter, and are leaving all three of those slower-moving planets behind.

Aug. 7, dusk: Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars span 120 degrees.

Aug. 8-10, dawn: Follow the moon’s last days of the lunar cycle in the morning sky. On Aug. 9, Pollux is 9 degrees to the left of the moon (a 6 percent crescent) and slightly higher. Castor is 4-1/2 degrees to the upper left of Pollux. On Aug. 10, the moon (only 1 percent) rises in twilight 14 degrees below and slightly to the right of Pollux. Begin watching below Orion for the first appearance of Sirius in the east-southeast.

Aug. 9, dusk: Venus and Saturn are 90 degrees apart.

Aug. 10, dusk: Venus and Spica are 20 degrees apart. Venus is now going east by a degree per day.

Aug. 12, 30 minutes after sunset: Find the young moon, a 4 percent crescent, 41 hours after new, 23 degrees to the lower right of Venus. Later, on the same night: Perseid meteors peak overnight, best from late in the evening on Aug. 12 until the first light of dawn on Aug. 13, increasing in numbers as the radiant rises higher, from 20 degrees up in the north-northeast as evening twilight ends, to 60 degrees up at start of morning twilight. Meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, but members of this shower, if their tracks are extended backward before their light-up points, would all originate from a common radiant below the “W” of Cassiopeia.

Wrapping up at the end of a night of seeing Perseids, I enjoy watching for the rising of Procyon, the “before the Dog” star in the east, and Sirius “the Dog Star” in east-southeast in morning twilight. (Follow Orion’s belt downward to Sirius.) Completing the Winter Triangle with Orion’s shoulder, Betelgeuse, both Dog stars are visible by an hour before sunrise, when the Summer Triangle of Altair, Vega and Deneb is low in the west to northwest. Can you see the Summer and Winter Triangles simultaneously? You must face different directions to see all six stars!

Aug. 13 at dusk: Venus is growing in apparent size as it approaches Earth, while Mars is shrinking as we recede from it. They now appear the same size, but strikingly different: Brilliant, cloud-covered Venus is half-illuminated, while Mars is 98 percent full, with its shrinking polar cap tipped nearly 10 degrees toward Earth. Watch the moon pass Venus and Jupiter through the 17th.

Aug. 13-Sept. 10 at nightfall: For next four weeks, Mars moves very slowly against the stars, and binoculars will show a striking, compact kite-shaped grouping of four stars of magnitude 4.5 to 4.8 in the same field, within a few degrees west of Mars. The long diagonal of the kite is just more than 2 degrees long, and the short diagonal about 1 degree. The gathering, a Chinese asterism called Dog Nation or Territory of Dogs, consists of the stars Omega, 59, 60 and 62 Sagittarii. For star tales about Sagittarius, including the fascinating Chinese fable about the Territory of Dogs, visit http://www.ianridpath.com/startales/sagittarius.htm and http://www.lcsd.gov.hk/CE/Museum/Space/archive/StarShine/Starlore/e_starshine_starlore14.htm.

Aug. 15 at dusk: The moon is in the west-southwest, 7 degrees to the upper right of Spica. Venus is 15 degrees to the lower right of Spica. Watch Venus close in on Spica for the rest of month..

Aug. 16 at dusk: Jupiter passes 0.6 degrees north of Alpha in Libra, or Zubenelgenubi, the third-magnitude star marking the southern claw of a larger, former version of the Scorpion. Binoculars give a good view.

Aug. 17 at dusk: Venus reaches greatest elongation, 46 degrees from the sun in the afternoon and evening sky. Note Jupiter to the moon’s lower right. The moon is at first quarter (half full) overnight, within an hour after moonset. Mars close up: Syrtis Major passes just north of the center of Mars’ disk at 8:52 p.m.

Aug. 18 at dusk: Jupiter is 25 degrees west of Antares. Watch the moon skip over Antares Aug. 18-19, and pass Saturn and Mars Aug. 20-23. Mars close up: Syrtis Major passes just north of the center of Mars’ disk at 9:29 p.m. (37 minutes later each day).

Aug. 19 at dawn: Mercury ends retrograde, but on the near side of its orbit and backlighted; at magnitude +1.6 this morning, it is a difficult target in bright twilight. It gets easier: Mercury brightens to magnitude +1.0 by Aug. 21, to 0.0 by Aug. 25, to -0.5 by Aug. 28, and to -1.0 by Sept. 3.

Aug. 20 at dusk: Venus and Spica are 10 degrees apart. Mars close up: Syrtis Major passes just north of the center of Mars’ disk at 10:43 p.m. Mars is highest in Palm Springs at 10:58 p.m.—the closest match!

Aug. 23 at dusk: Venus and Jupiter are now within 30 degrees. Later in the night, Mars is at 10:45 p.m., while Syrtis Major passes just north of the center of Mars’ disk at 12:34 a.m. on Aug. 24.

Aug. 24-26, at dawn: Mercury forms a nearly equilateral triangle with Pollux and Procyon, about 23 degrees on a side. Compare to larger Winter Triangle of Sirius, Procyon and Betelgeuse.

Aug. 26: The full moon is at 4:56 a.m. At dawn, Mercury is very low in the east-northeast, at greatest elongation, 18 degrees from the sun. At dusk, for a dozen evenings, through Sept. 6: Venus and Spica are within 5 degrees, and appear closest, 1.3 degrees apart, on Aug. 31. Binoculars give good views of the pair low in twilight.

Aug. 27 at dusk: Mars ends retrograde in far southeast Sagittarius. Binoculars show Chinese asterism, “Dog Nation” or “Territory of Dogs,” closely west of Mars for at least two more weeks.

August 28 at dusk: Venus and Spica are 3.1 degrees apart. The moon rises very nearly as Venus sets.

Aug. 31 at dusk: Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars, span 95 degrees. Venus passes within 1.3 degrees south of Spica (closest tonight). Telescopes show Venus as crescent, 40 percent full, and Mars 94 percent full.


Extras

As mentioned above: Mars this month shows its south polar cap of frozen carbon dioxide, shrinking with the advance of southern spring, as well as surface features, such as Syrtis Major and Hellas Basin best on the nights of Aug. 17-24, provided that Martian dust storms don’t block the view.

As August opens, Mars, just a day past closest approach, still shines at magnitude -2.8 and shows a disk 24.3 arcseconds across. It is mid-spring in Mars’ southern hemisphere, and the bright south polar cap is shrinking noticeably with the approach of Mars to its perihelion in mid-September, and to its southern summer solstice in mid-October.

Syrtis Major, a prominent dark marking first noticed in 1659, will be in good position for observing on the nights of August 17-24 as it passes near the center of Mars’ disk within 2 1/2 hours of when the planet is highest in our local night sky. But Mars is farthest south in mid-August, so it is less than 30 degrees up when due south for residents of the Coachella Valley. Be patient and wait for good seeing. The best times to look for Syrtis Major, which resembles a dark triangular, northward-pointing India passing north of the disk center, occur about 37 minutes later each night, starting on Aug. 17 at 8:52 p.m., and ending on Aug. 25 at 1:11 a.m. At all these same times, look for light-colored Hellas Basin crossing south of disk the center, between Syrtis Major and the polar cap. Martian dust storms might render these surface features difficult or impossible to observe. Let’s hope for clear skies—on Mars as well as on Earth!

The next “windows” for best viewing of Syrtis Major and Hellas occur 36 days later, in late September. Mars will then reach its high point in south about two hours earlier in evening. Between now and then, watch the face of Mars shift by 10 degrees in longitude per day, if you look when Mars passes due south. For a map of Mars for any date and time, visit Sky and Telescope Mars Profiler: https://is.gd/marsprofiler.

See also these detailed descriptions of Mars’ 2018 apparition:

http://www.alpo-astronomy.org/jbeish/2018_MARS.htm

http://www.nakedeyeplanets.com/mars.htm

Asteroid Vesta in August 2018: For much of the month, asteroid Vesta is an easy target for binoculars, and the 3.3-magnitude star Theta Ophiuchi is the starting point and key to locating it. Find Theta Oph 12 degrees east of Antares, nearly halfway toward 2.8-magnitude Lambda Sagittarii, top of the Teapot. Theta Oph is plotted on Sky Calendar diagrams for Aug. 7 and Aug. 17-23. On Aug. 1, Vesta, of magnitude 6.3, ends retrograde 2 1/4 degrees north-northeast of Theta Oph while moving 4 arcminutes southward each day. Note these two stars in the same binocular field to the upper left of Theta: 44 Ophiuchi, of magnitude 4.2 and 1.3 degrees northeast of Theta; and 51 Oph, of magnitude 4.8 and nearly 1.2 degrees east-northeast of Theta. After Aug. 1, Vesta curves eastward. On Aug. 16, a line from Theta to 44 Oph, 1.3 degrees long, extended nearly half its length past 44 Oph, locates Vesta, of magnitude 6.7. The Moon appears near this field on the evenings of Aug. 19 and 20. On the evenings of Aug. 20 and 21, Vesta, of magnitude 6.8 and moving east-southeast by 9 arcminutes per day, appears very close to 4.8-magnitude 51 Oph. The asteroid passes 7 arcminutes south of the star during the day on Aug. 21. For a Vesta finder chart, visit http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/vesta-2018-opposition/.

Here’s a link to article on 2018 apparitions of Uranus and Neptune with finder charts:

https://is.gd/urnep

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/ice-giants-neptune-and-uranus/

For suggestions for observing projects during August through October 2018, go to http://abramsplanetarium.org/msta/.

The website of the Astronomical Society of the Desert has a listing of our evening star parties, Sawmill Trailhead, our high-altitude site (elevation 4,000 feet), will have a star party starting at dusk on Saturday, Aug. 11.

Abrams Planetarium publishes a monthly Sky Calendar with an evening sky map. Subscriptions are $12 per year, for three printed issues mailed quarterly. Subscribe or view a sample back issue at www.abramsplanetarium.org/skycalendar.

Wishing you clear skies!

Robert C. Victor was a staff astronomer at Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing sky watching opportunities for a variety of groups in the Coachella Valley. Robert D. Miller did graduate work in planetarium science and later astronomy and computer science at Michigan State University and remains active in research and public outreach in astronomy.

It’s planetfest, with five bright planets in July’s evening hours! Three of them far outshine all stars. (But early in the month, you must wait until after nightfall to see Mars.)

Venus, the brightest, gleams at magnitude -4.1 to -4.3 in the west at dusk, and sets more than two hours after sunset. Jupiter glows at magnitude -2.3 to -2.1 in the south to south-southwest at dusk. Mars rises in the east-southeast to southeast two hours after sunset on July 1, one hour after sunset on the 16th, and at sunset on the 31st. Earth overtakes Mars on the night of July 26, passing within 35.8 million miles four nights later, on the night of July 30-31. This is our closest approach to Mars since 2003, and the nearest until 2035. As Earth approaches Mars in July, the red planet attains rare brilliance, kindling from magnitude -2.2 to -2.8, to outshine Jupiter until early September.

Mercury shines at zero magnitude first for the few days and lingers very low in the west-northwest twilight glow, to the lower right of Venus, within 16-17 degrees July 1-15, and widening to 20 degrees away by July 20, when it fades to magnitude +1. Saturn, of magnitude 0.0 to +0.2, ascends through the southeast toward the south-southeast at dusk, reaching its high point in the south about 4.5 hours after sunset on July 1, backing to 2.6 hours after sunset on the 31st.

The most prominent stars, also of magnitude zero, are golden Arcturus, high in the south-southwest to west-southwest, and blue-white Vega, high in east-northeast. Vega is a member of the Summer Triangle along with Altair and Deneb, up all night throughout July.

Morning: Mars is by far the brightest “star” in morning twilight, sinking low in the southwest as the month progresses. In the first week, note Saturn very low in the west-southwest, 34 degrees to Mars’ lower right. The two brightest real stars are Vega in west-northwest to northwest, and Capella, climbing in the northeast. Other stars visible in morning twilight include Altair and Deneb, completing the Summer Triangle with Vega; Aldebaran, eye of Taurus, in the east to east-northeast to the lower right of Capella; and Fomalhaut, in the south to south-southwest. Rising into view late in the month are Rigel and Betelgeuse, right and left of Orion’s belt low in the east; and Castor and Pollux of Gemini, well north of east.

July features four telescopic showpiece planets: Venus in July displays a gibbous phase, 70 to 57 percent full. The view will be more impressive in August through January, as Venus goes through half and crescent phases—larger than now in apparent size, because Venus will be closer to Earth. Jupiter shows cloud belts and up to four bright moons discovered by Galileo. Saturn shows rings still tipped a generous 26 degrees into our view, and satellite Titan in its 16-day orbit. Mars this month shows a prominent south polar cap of frozen carbon dioxide, shrinking with the advance of southern spring—catch it soon!—and surface features, such as Syrtis Major and Hellas Basin.

For events at dawn, begin viewing at least one hour before sunrise. For events at dusk, look one hour after sunset except when noted.

July 1: At dawn, in the south-southwest, find bright Mars within 7 degrees to the lower right of the waning gibbous moon. At dusk, find four planets: Mercury very low in the west-northwest, 17 degrees to the lower right of brilliant Venus; Jupiter well up in the south; and Saturn low in southeast. Tonight, Venus to Saturn span nearly 135 degrees. About two hours after sunset, watch for bright Mars rising in the southeast, and another 40 minutes later, watch for the waning gibbous moon rising 16 degrees to the lower left of Mars.

July 2-12: At dusk, Mercury, our solar system’s innermost planet, stays 16 degrees to the lower right of Venus. If you always look exactly one hour after sunset, Mercury will appear highest, nearly 6 degrees up, on July 4, and will reach greatest elongation, 26 degrees from the sun, a week later, on July 11. But Mercury is fading from magnitude 0.0 on July 1 to magnitude +1.0 on July 20, getting fainter each night as Mercury sinks into bright twilight.

July 5, 1 to 1 1/2 hours after sunset: The star Regulus, heart of Leo, is within 5 degrees of Venus for nine evenings through July 13, fitting within the same field of view of most binoculars. Watch nightly as Venus moves just more than one degree per day, and passes one degree north (to the upper right) of Regulus on July 9. For a few days, you can easily detect Venus’ change in position from one day to the next.

July 9, 1 to 1 1/2 hours before sunrise: Find the waning crescent moon (18 percent) just north of east, with the Pleiades star cluster 10 degrees to its upper left, and bright Aldebaran, eye of Taurus, within 13 degrees to the moon’s lower left. Look the next morning, July 10, at the same hour, to catch the moon within 2 degrees to the lower left of the star, and the Hyades star cluster nearby.

July 9, 2 to 1 1/2 hours after sunset: Venus and Regulus appear closest tonight, just 1 degree apart. Jupiter ends retrograde 2.1 degrees west of third-magnitude Alpha in Libra (Zubenelgenubi), and begins creeping back toward that star.

July 10: See four planets simultaneously in the evening sky. You have two choices; select a viewing site where mountains won’t block your view. 1. About one hour after sunset, look west to west-northwest for brilliant Venus 16 degrees up, with Mercury 16 degrees to its lower right and 5 degrees above the horizon. Jupiter is then 40 degrees up in the south to south-southwest, and Saturn is about 20 degrees up in the southeast. 2. Look nearly two hours after sunset, when Venus and Mars are 5 degrees above opposite horizons. Find Venus low in the west to west-northwest; Jupiter in the south-southwest; Saturn in the southeast to south-southeast; and Mars low in the east-southeast to southeast.

July 11: Your last chance to see the old moon in this cycle. One hour before sunrise, look very low in the east-northeast for the slender 4 percent crescent. The new moon occurs on July 12 at 7:48 p.m., with a partial solar eclipse visible in southeast Australia and the ocean to the south.

Nights of July 12-19: Observe Mars’ south polar cap soon, while it is still large, and before a possible planet-wide dust storm that could render it invisible! The Martian south polar cap, where spring began on May 22, in July is tipped 10-17 degrees toward the sun and a favorable 14 to 11 degrees into our view from Earth. The frozen-carbon-dioxide polar cap is now shrinking from its maximum extent. Using your telescope with as high of a magnification as atmospheric conditions allow, look for a large bright area near the southern edge of Mars’ reddish disk. On the nights of July 12-19, the prominent dark mark, Syrtis Major—first recorded with certainty in early telescopic observations by Christiaan Huygens in 1659—will appear near the center of the Martian disk on July 12 at 11:36 p.m., and about 36-37 minutes later each successive night, i.e., July 14 at 12:12 a.m., July 15 at 12:49 a.m., until July 20 at 3:51 a.m. Around these times, Mars is well-placed in our sky for telescopic observation. Catch views of Syrtis Major up to two hours away from those times, provided Mars isn’t too low.

July 13, in early dusk: About 25 minutes after sunset, look for the slender 2 percent crescent about 3 degrees up in the west-northwest, some 29 degrees to the lower right of Venus and 13 degrees to the lower right of Mercury. Tonight, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn span 120 degrees.

July 14, one hour after sunset: The crescent moon, 6 percent full, is very low in the west to west-northwest, with Venus 15 degrees to the upper left, and Mercury within 3 degrees below and a little to the right. Regulus is within 6 degrees to the lower right of Venus.

Sunday, July 15, at dusk: Don’t miss this spectacular sight! One hour after sunset, Venus is only about one degree to the left of the 13 percent crescent moon. Regulus and Mercury are about 7 and 17 degrees to the lower right of Venus. If you have an unobstructed horizon, keep Mercury in view as it sinks lower, toward the west-northwest horizon. If nothing blocks your view, then you may be able to spot Mars before Mercury sets some 16 degrees north of west. From places near our Coachella Valley, the best time to look is about 1.2 hours after sunset. If you spot Mars before Mercury disappears, that makes five planets in view simultaneously! If surrounding mountains prevent you from doing this, then note Mercury-Venus-Jupiter-Saturn in west to east order in the early evening, before Mercury sets; then wait awhile until Mars rises, and you’ll see Venus-Jupiter-Saturn-Mars spanning 150 degrees.

July 16 at dusk: Face west for the 22 percent crescent moon, and Venus within 13 degrees to its lower right. Mercury is 18 degrees to the lower right of Venus. Using binoculars, try for Regulus 8 degrees to the lower right of Venus and 10 degrees to the upper left of Mercury. If you’re trying for all five bright planets, the best time to look is about 1 hour, 9 minutes after sunset, when Mars will have just risen about 30 degrees south of east; Jupiter will be well up in the south-southwest, and Saturn will be 33 degrees to the upper right of Mars. If you spot Mars before Mercury sets, you’ve got it!

July 17: If you have an unobstructed horizon, you can spot six solar system bodies with the unaided eye about 1.1 hours after sunset. In order from west to east, they are Mercury, Venus, the moon, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars. Otherwise, look earlier to catch Mercury before it sets, or look a few minutes later to see Mars after it rises, and you’ll still see five bodies at once! Mercury is getting fainter nightly and lower in twilight.

July 18: In order from west-northwest to east-southeast, nine bright objects lie along the zodiac and above the horizon just more than an hour after sunset tonight: Mercury, Regulus, Venus, a fat crescent moon with Spica 9 degrees to its lower left, Jupiter, Antares; Saturn and Mars. With mountains surrounding us, we are not likely to see Mercury and Mars simultaneously. Look a few minutes earlier for Mercury, or later to spot Mars after it rises.

July 19: Early this evening, the moon has passed its first quarter phase, so it’s slightly more than half full (54 percent), and more than 90 degrees (94, to be exact) east of the sun.

July 20: One hour after sunset, bright Jupiter is just 3-4 degrees to the lower right of the waxing gibbous moon, nearly two-thirds full. Today is the 49th anniversary of the first manned lunar landing, Apollo 11.

July 21: One hour after sunset, the moon is nearly three-fourths full, just west of due south. Jupiter is about 14 degrees west of the moon. Antares, heart of the Scorpion, is 16 degrees to the moon’s lower left. Venus and Jupiter are 60 degrees apart tonight.

July 22 at dusk: Antares is 8 degrees below the moon.

July 23 at dusk: Reddish twinkling Antares is 14 degrees to the moon’s lower right. Steady, yellowish Saturn is 13 degrees to the moon’s lower left.

July 24 at dusk: Saturn is a little more than one degree below the moon’s lower edge. You’ll have no difficulty seeing it if you block the moon with your hand. Note bright apricot-colored Mars 32 degrees to the moon’s lower left.

July 25 at dusk: Saturn is 11 degrees to the moon’s upper right. Brilliant, tawny-colored Mars, gleaming at magnitude -2.8, is within 21 degrees, to the lower left of the moon.

Night of Thursday, July 26: Mars is at opposition tonight as Earth overtakes the red planet and we look almost directly away from the sun to see it. One hour after sunset, look low in the southeast to find Mars within 10 degrees to the lower left of the nearly full moon. Mars is now several degrees south of Earth’s orbit plane, so an hour before sunrise on Friday, July 27, they’re still 8 degrees apart, 8 degrees up in the west-southwest, with Mars to the moon’s left. The moon isn’t then yet at opposition; there are still several hours to go before a deep total lunar eclipse, when the moon at mid-event will be directly overhead of the Indian Ocean just east of Madagascar. It’s daytime then in California, July 27 at 1:22 p.m., with the moon well below our horizon, so none of the eclipse will be seen in North America. We’ll have our chance to see a total lunar eclipse on the evening of Jan. 20, 2019.

Night of Friday, July 27: The moon, several hours past full, rises 6 minutes after sunset. About 10 minutes later, watch for the rising of Mars about 7 degrees to the moon’s right. One hour after sunset this evening, Mars is just 7 degrees up in the southeast, and 7-8 degrees to the moon’s upper right. By an hour before sunrise on Saturday, July 28, Mars is 7 degrees up in the southwest, 9-10 degrees below the moon. Mars sets about 14 minutes before sunrise.

Night of Monday, July 30: Tonight, at 12:50 a.m. on Tuesday, Mars has its closest approach to Earth since August 2003, and the closest until September 2035. Mars is within 35.8 million miles of Earth, and it takes the light reflected off the surface of Mars only 3.2 minutes to reach us. For sky watchers in Palm Springs, Mars reaches its high point in the sky at 12:44 a.m., while 30 degrees above the southern horizon.

The website of the Astronomical Society of the Desert  has a listing of our evening star parties. Sawmill Trailhead (SMT), our high-altitude site (elevation 4,000 feet) will have a star party starting at dusk on Saturday, July 14.

Abrams Planetarium publishes a monthly Sky Calendar with an evening sky map. Subscriptions are $12 per year. Subscribe or view a sample issue at www.abramsplanetarium.org/skycalendar.

Robert C. Victor was a staff astronomer at Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing sky watching opportunities for a variety of groups in the Coachella Valley. Robert D. Miller did graduate work in planetarium science and later astronomy and computer science at Michigan State University and remains active in research and public outreach in astronomy.

At dusk in June, two planets clearly outshine all the stars. Venus, at magnitude -4 in the west-northwest, sets about 2.5 hours after sunset. Jupiter, near magnitude -2.4 in the southeast to south at dusk, reaches its highest point in the south about three hours after sunset on June 1, moving to one hour after sunset at month’s end.

Mercury passes superior conjunction on the far side of the sun on June 5. Near the perihelion of its orbit, it emerges very swiftly into the evening sky. Using binoculars, look very low in the west-northwest twilight glow, to the lower right of Venus, by 25 degrees on June 16; 20 degrees on June 25; and 17 degrees on June 30.

Later in the evening, Saturn rises within two hours after sunset on June 1, moving to around sunset on June 24, three days before opposition. Mars rises within four hours of sunset on the 1st, moving to about two hours after on the 30th. Find the Summer Triangle in the eastern sky at dusk as the season begins.

During June mornings:Jupiter on June 1 sets in the west-southwest nearly 1.3 hours before sunrise, and then 4 minutes earlier each morning. If your predawn walk occurs after Jupiter sets, you’ll see a sky dominated by Mars, in the south to south-southwest, while brightening nearly a magnitude, from -1.2 to -2.1. Saturn, near magnitude 0, is lower in the southwest, 28 to 34 degrees west of Mars. Prominent stars include the Summer Triangle, passing west of overhead; Fomalhaut in the southeast to south; Capella rising from the northeast; and Aldebaran emerging late in the month in the east-northeast.

This month features bright visible outer planets! On the morning of June 1, Spaceship Earth is heading toward constellation Aquarius, about 35 degrees to the east (left) of Mars. As our planet follows its nearly circular orbit around the sun, we overtake all three bright outer planets within 79 days, the shortest interval until 2078.

The asteroid Vesta> was the fourth to be discovered, in 1807. This month provides chances to see this asteroid with binoculars—and even the unaided eye in very dark skies. Begin with this finder chart which shows seven of the eight stars of the Teapot of Sagittarius. On the night of June 4, a line 5.7 degrees long, from 2.8-magnitude Lambda Sgr (Kaus Borealis, atop the Teapot’s lid) to 3.9-magnitude Polis (Mu Sgr), extended three degrees past Polis, ends near Vesta, magnitude 5.7. Vesta is retrograding in June, changing its place by about one-quarter of a degree daily for the rest of the month. Note the open cluster M23 within 2.5 degrees west of Vesta on June 4. On June 14, Vesta will pass closely southeast of M23. For a few days around its opposition on June 19, Vesta will reach magnitude 5.3, brighter than it will be again until July 2029.

For events at dawn, we suggest you begin viewing at least one hour before sunrise. For events at dusk, look one hour after sunset except when noted.

June 1 at dawn: The moon, nearly three days past full, is in the south-southwest at dawn, 5 degrees east (to the upper left) of Saturn and 23 degrees west (to the lower right) of Mars. Evening: Try to spot Saturn rising before Venus sets. Both are 4 degrees above opposite horizons about 2.2 hours after sunset. Three hours after sunset: The moon, just risen in the east-southeast, is 15 degrees to the lower left of Saturn.

June 2 at dawn: The waning gibbous moon is in the south to south-southwest, with Mars 12 degrees to the left, and Saturn 17 degrees to the lower right. Four hours after sunset: The moon, very low in the east-southeast, has Mars within 3 degrees to its lower right, and Saturn 27 degrees to its upper right.

June 3 at dawn: The moon is in the south, with Mars 2-3 degrees below. Saturn is 29 degrees to the lower right of the moon.

June 6-8 at dusk: A week after forming an isosceles triangle with the “Twin” stars Pollux and Castor, Venus now passes within 5 degrees to the lower left of Pollux. Look nightly, and see Venus move!

June 7-12, before dawn: The Martian south polar cap, where spring has recently begun, is now tipped 4-5 degrees toward the sun and a favorable 15 degrees into our view from Earth. The frozen carbon-dioxide polar cap is still near its maximum extent. Using your telescope with as high of a magnification as atmospheric conditions allow, look for a large bright area near the southern edge of Mars’ reddish disk. These mornings, the prominent dark marking Syrtis Major, the first Martian feature to be recorded in early telescopic observations, will appear near the center of the Martian disk on June 7 at 1:43 a.m., and about 38 minutes later each successive morning, until 4:54 a.m. on June 12. Around these times, Mars is well-placed in our sky for telescopic observation. Catch views of Syrtis Major up to two hours away from those times, provided Mars isn’t too low, or you don’t run into daylight.

June 11 at dawn: The moon is very low in the east-northeast to east. Use binoculars to spot the Pleiades cluster 15 degrees to the left of the rising moon.

June 12, 35 minutes before sunrise: Try to find the very old, thin crescent moon, 3 percent full, less than 3 degrees up, 17 degrees north of east.

June 13: The new moon, arriving at 12:43 p.m. is not visible today, neither at dawn nor at dusk.

June 14, 30 minutes after sunset: The crescent moon, some 32 hours old and 3 percent full, is 6 degrees up the in west-northwest. The moon sighting marks the end of Ramadan. Binoculars show Mercury 8 degrees to the moon’s lower right. Venus is easy to see with the unaided eye, 20 degrees to the moon’s upper left.

June 15, 30 minutes after sunset: The 8 percent crescent moon is 18 degrees up in the west to west-northwest, with Mercury 20 degrees to its lower right. Venus is within 7 degrees to the moon’s upper left.

June 16, beginning 30 minutes after sunset: The moon, at 16 percent, is well up in west, with Venus and Mercury 8 degrees and 33 degrees to the moon’s lower right. Mercury now sets a full hour after the sun.

June 17 at dusk: Regulus, heart of Leo, is within 4 degrees to the moon’s upper left. Mercury is 24 degrees to the lower right of Venus.

June 18 at dusk: Regulus is 11 degrees to the lower right of the moon.

June 19: The moon, nearing first-quarter phase, is almost 90 degrees east of the sun in the afternoon and evening sky, and appears almost half full. In the late afternoon, view or photograph the moon through a polarizing filter, rotating it to darken the blue sky, and you’ll improve the contrast well enough to observe lunar craters in the daytime! At dusk, Mercury forms an isosceles triangle with “Twin” stars Pollux and Castor 10 degrees above the planet. As twilight deepens, binoculars and telescope show the Beehive star cluster closely south of Venus.

June 20 at dusk: Can you see Saturn rising before Mercury sets? Both are nearly 5 degrees above opposite horizons at mid-twilight, 47 minutes after sunset. That makes four planets, Mercury-Venus-Jupiter-Saturn, visible simultaneously!

June 21 at 3:07 a.m.: The sun stands directly over the Tropic of Cancer, and summer begins for Earth’s Northern Hemisphere, with the shortest night and longest day. In Palm Springs, 12:48 p.m., the sun passes only 10.4 degrees south of overhead. Set up an Earth globe outdoors with your city at the top of the sphere, and the directions matched up, and your globe will have the same orientation as the Earth in space. Its axis will point nearly to the North Star, and the sunlit portion of the globe at any time of day you look will match reality. Note the North Pole is tipped into sunlight, and the South Pole is tipped into darkness.

June 21 and 22 at dusk: Spica in Virgo appears within 7 degrees to the lower left, and then 13 degrees to the lower right, of the waxing gibbous moon. On June 22, Jupiter appears within 10 degrees to the moon’s lower left.

June 23 at dusk: Jupiter is 5 degrees to the lower right of the moon. Mercury is 20 degrees to the lower right of Venus and closing.

June 24 at dusk: Mercury passes within 5 degrees to the south (lower left) of Pollux. Jupiter is 17 degrees to the moon’s upper right. On June 24 and 25 at dusk, Venus and Jupiter are about 90 degrees apart. Watch them draw together until late September, when they’ll be within 14 degrees.

June 25 at dusk: Antares, heart of Scorpius, is 8-9 degrees to the moon’s lower right.

June 26 and 27 at dusk: Mercury forms a nearly straight line with Pollux and Castor to its right. Saturn is 11 degrees to the moon’s lower left on June 26, and 1-2 degrees to the right of the full moon on June 27.

June 28 at dawn: The moon, just past full, is in the southwest, with Saturn, a day past opposition, 3-4 degrees to the moon’s lower right. At dusk, Saturn is within 13 degrees to the upper right of the moon.

June 30 at dawn: Mars is within 8 degrees to the left of the moon. On evening of June 30, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn span 135 degrees. Can you spot Mars before Venus sets? You’ll need a good vantage point; both are 2 degrees above opposite horizons about 2 1/4 hours after sunset.

The website of the Astronomical Society of the Desert at www.astrorx.org has a listing of our evening star parties. Sawmill Trailhead, our high-altitude site (elevation 4,000 feet), will have a star party starting at dusk on Saturday, June 9.

Abrams Planetarium publishes a monthly Sky Calendar with an evening sky map. Subscriptions are $12 per year. Subscribe or view a sample issue at www.abramsplanetarium.org/skycalendar.

Wishing you clear skies!

Robert C. Victor was a staff astronomer at Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing sky watching opportunities for a variety of groups in the Coachella Valley. Robert D. Miller did graduate work in planetarium science and later astronomy and computer science at Michigan State University and remains active in research and public outreach in astronomy.

Page 1 of 8