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Articles by J. Alex Knoll

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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There’s more to Shaula and Lesath than appears at first glance

Soon after sunset on September 10th and 11th, the nascent crescent moon joins Venus low in the west. These two are the first two lights to appear after sunset, around 7:20 Saturday, when Venus shines six degrees to the right of the moon.

Sunday, the moon and Venus form a loose triangle with the dim star Zubenelgenubi in the constellation Libra.

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Less daytime and a waning moon leave plenty to see

With summer on the wane, the sun sets around 7:30 at week’s end, shedding more than a minute of evening sunlight each night. In the morning it’s more of the same, as the sun rises at 6:37 Saturday and almost a minute later each morning.

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One of our greatest feats follows us on four legs

When you look to the constellations, it’s like paging through history. Creatures abound in the constellations, both real and fanciful. We see kings and queens, beasts and heroes, all recounting the travails and triumphs of ancient times. Today, many are obscure and unfamiliar.

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In the water, on the land and in the heavens, fall is on the way

The gibbous moon waxes to full Tuesday, traveling through the rising constellations of autumn. At one time, great sturgeon filled America’s waterways each August as they fattened up for the coming cold, and so this full moon was called the Sturgeon Moon. But these days the fish are so scarce they are off limits to anglers....

Goodness gracious!

In the deepening twilight, Venus, Saturn and Mars blink into view above the west horizon. Thursday the waxing crescent moon joins the fray, with none farther than seven degrees from any other. The planets set around 10pm at week’s end, and while Mars and Venus remain just a few degrees apart through most of the month, Saturn drops from sight over the next few days.

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