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Night Lights from Dusk to Dawn

Bright pairings flank the full moon

Thursday the 18th, look to the lower left of the waxing gibbous moon for fiery Antares, the heart of Scorpius. Saturday, the near-full moon is less than 10 degrees below and to the right of Altair, the gleaming eye of Aquila the eagle and one of the three points in the Summer Triangle. Monday, the full moon blazes amid the dim stars of Capricorn. This moon is called the Buck Moon, the Thunder Moon and the Hay Moon.
    For weeks now, Venus has been holding steady at sunset in the west-northwest, with the stellar background shifting around it. Over the weekend, Regulus pulls within two degrees of Venus, and by Monday, the two are barely one degree apart. But all this is brief, with the two appearing in the haze of twilight and setting around 9:30.
    Before dawn, Jupiter and Mars have been visible in the east-northeast, slowly pulling together. If you’re out in the hour before sunrise with a clear view to the east, you should have little trouble spotting Jupiter and Mars amid the stars of Gemini. Monday the two draw within 3⁄4 degree of one another in the closest planetary conjunction of the year. At magnitude –1.9, Jupiter is nearly four times brighter than Mars at magnitude +1.5, but the red planet is a little higher in the sky. If you’re lucky, you may see Mercury far below just above the horizon.
    One last planet graces our darkened skies. Saturn appears in the southwest after sunset. It, too, has a bright, albeit more distant, neighbor. Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo, is little more than 10 degrees below and to the left of Saturn. Both shine at roughly magnitude +1, but you should be able to tell them apart by Saturn’s steady, golden color compared to Spica’s twinkling blue-white. Viewed with even a modest telescope, the two become quite distinct, as Saturn’s bulging rings come into view. Put that telescope to use Wednesday, when several of Saturn’s moons line up in front of the ringed planet.