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Articles by J. Alex Knoll

The brightest stars of two seasons outshine the full moon’s glare

Sunday’s full moon shines amid the stars of Taurus the bull. Ten degrees east of the moon you’ll find the red-giant Aldebaran. Half that distance to the moon’s west look for a small, fuzzy patch of light. So close to the moon’s glare, you may need binoculars to discern the stars of the Pleiades cluster.

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Jupiter and Venus bookend the edges of darkness

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

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

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

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Autumn’s full moons help dispel the impending darkness

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

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From Zeus’ paramour to Arthur’s kingdom

The waxing moon reaches first-quarter on the 14th, appearing due south as the sun sets, well before 6:30 this week, and setting around midnight. Each night the moon appears 15 degrees farther east at sunset, and each evening it sets almost an hour later. The night of the 19th, the gibbous moon passes six degrees north of brilliant Jupiter. 

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The always puzzling Draconids

 

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

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The heavenly bull’s glare

As darkness settles, the bright glow of Jupiter pierces the east-southeast horizon, by far the brightest light in the sky, as the moon spends this week waning through pre-dawn skies. The gaseous giant is high in the south at midnight, and as dawn nears, it sets beneath the western horizon.

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The sun’s lost ground is the skywatcher’s gain

 

As if to hammer another nail into summer’s coffin, the sun this week sets before 7:00. The darkening sky reveals Venus tight above the southwest horizon, and while the evening star is brilliant at magnitude –4, it, too, is fleeting and sets shortly after the sun.

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The sun’s lost ground is the skywatcher’s gain

 

As if to hammer another nail into summer’s coffin, the sun this week sets before 7:00. The darkening sky reveals Venus tight above the southwest horizon, and while the evening star is brilliant at magnitude –4, it, too, is fleeting and sets shortly after the sun.

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With the autumnal equinox, that footwear comes to life

Labor Day has come and gone, but the celestial clock still reads summer. While our days are still longer than our nights, we have lost two hours 45 minutes of sunlight over the past three months. After this week, the hours of darkness each day will trump those of light.

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