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Articles by J. Alex Knoll

How many planets can you spot?

The waxing crescent moon and Mercury appear low in the west-southwest after sunset Thursday. While the moon is easy to spot, Mercury is 10 degrees lower, buried amid twilight’s glow. Your chance to catch the innermost planet hinges between its own setting, around 6:45, and the sun’s glare, which doesn’t give way to full darkness until 7pm. Scanning the horizon with a pair of binoculars will help....

Citizen scientists add to the night sky’s picture

The waning crescent moon rises a few hours before dawn at week’s end, edging closer to the sun before reaching a new phase Tuesday. This week’s dark winter skies coincide with the Great Worldwide Star Count, going on this month through February 21. Sponsored by the GLOBE at Night Foundation, the goal is to enlist 15,000 “citizen scientists” to report their sightings from three constellations, Orion, Leo and Crux....

See if you can find Scorpio’s stinger stars Shaula and Lesath

Sunset reveals the two brightest planets, Jupiter, almost overhead, and Venus, high in the southwest. Equipped with a pair of binoculars or a small telescope, you may be able to spot a third planet, distant Uranus, which appears near Venus.
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It’s all how you divide the year

The first week of February marks a seasonal milestone, as the sun hovers midway between its southernmost point above the Tropic of Capricorn on winter solstice and its position above the equator on vernal equinox. If you think of the year as a compass with the equinoxes and solstices the four cardinal points, then this cross-quarter day — one of four — represent the ordinal points, dissecting our seasons.
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Behind this glowing mass of cosmic gas is a stellar nursery

The waning crescent moon reaches new phase Monday, leaving our night skies free of its overpowering glow. As darkness settles and the stars come into view, the familiar outline of Orion is appears above the southeast horizon.
    Easily the most recognizable constellation, Orion has marched through the heavens and played a role in the mythology of every civilization and culture on earth.
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Regardless of the time, there’s plenty to see

The waning moon rises before midnight Thursday and Friday, with ruddy Mars just a few degrees above. They are high in the south by 4am and in the southwest at dawn.
    Monday’s last-quarter moon rises after midnight, just a couple degrees below the bright star Spica. Golden Saturn trails a few degrees to the moon’s east, with the three forming a tight triangle.
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Would you believe it’s our shortest season?

Thursday brings two celestial milestones: it marks the latest sunrise of the year and it marks perihelion, earth’s closest point to the sun.
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Feast your eyes on the heavens above

Of the naked-eye planets, Mercury is the most overlooked. That isn’t for lack of brightness, as it outshines both Mars and Saturn. Nor is it a result of distance, given that it’s closer to us than is Mars. But so near the sun, Mercury never strays far from its blinding glare.
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Five planets brighten these long nights

All the naked-eye planets decorate our night skies the next couple weeks, with the two brightest coming into view at sunset but all staggered throughout the dark hours.
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Bright lights warm dark nights

We’re still a couple weeks from winter solstice, the day with the least sunlight for us in the Northern Hemisphere. But we’re already enjoying later sunsets one day to the next. Wednesday the 7th, old Sol sunk beneath Annapolis’s southwest horizon at 37 seconds past 4:43, the earliest sunset of the year. By the solstice December 21, the sun sets more than two and a-half minutes later at 4:47:03.
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