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Sky Watch by J. Alex Knoll

You won’t mind picking up after comet Tempel-Tuttle

The young crescent moon appears in the southwest at twilight Thursday and Friday, with ruddy Mars a half-dozen degrees to the east the first night and to the southwest the next. Through the weekend the waxing moon sets well before midnight, providing a dark backdrop for the annual Leonid meteor shower.

Look for Andromeda while waiting for meteors

The moon wanes through morning skies before reaching new phase in the nether hours between Tuesday and Wednesday. Before then, look for the waning crescent near brilliant Venus before dawn over the weekend. By early morning Sunday, a thin sliver of moon is just five degrees below the dazzling morning star in the east. If you have a clear view of the horizon, scan it for Saturn, reemerging from the sun’s glare. Monday before dawn, the ringed planet is a half-dozen degrees below the razor-thin crescent moon.

Fomalhaut glows in the south

Shortly after the sun sets, test your eyes searching for Mars low in the southwest. To the right shines similarly colored Antares, the heart of Scorpius, the gap between the two widening noticeably over the coming week, but they both set before 7pm.

No goody bag needed

As the sun sets Friday, see if you can spot Mercury dangling low against the southwest horizon before it too sets within a half-hour. While fleeting, this is Mercury’s best evening apparition. At this point, Mercury is at its greatest eastern elongation, meaning that, as seen from Earth, the innermost planet is its farthest to the east of the sun, in this case 24 degrees. Even at its best, Mercury is a tough target, often easier to spot scanning the horizon with binoculars.

You won’t have to wait 50 years to see the spawn of this comet

It’s been 26 years since Halley’s comet visited back in 1986, and it won’t come this way again until 2062. But each year at this time we get a postcard of sorts from Halley in the form of the Orionid meteor shower, which peaks in the pre-dawn hours Saturday and Sunday.

A thin crescent straddles either edge of darkness

The moon wanes in pre-dawn skies  through the weekend. Friday and Saturday the last of the crescent moon hovers just a few degrees below brilliant Venus. Even without the moon, you should have no trouble finding this morning star, as it is the brightest light in the sky besides the sun and moon. The next-brightest object is the star Regulus, the heart of Leo the lion, within 10 degrees of Venus, although the two are fast pulling away from one another.

October’s Draconids are typically sleepers, but every now and then …

Sunset reveals Mars low in the southwest. Its ruddy glow is usually quite distinct, but it is only a dozen degrees from its rival, orange Antares, blinking to its upper left. You’ll have a harder time spotting Saturn, so low in the west that it’s almost lost in the glare of the setting sun.

The Harvest Moon marks Uranus

Saturday’s full moon, the closest to autumnal equinox, marks the famous Harvest Moon. Legend holds that farmers have long used the added light of this moon to continue bringing in the crops well into the night. Science backs up the legend.

The equinox marks the start of autumn, but it isn’t quite 50/50 day and night

The moon waxes in the evening sky this week, with first-quarter occurring on the 22nd. That day has been dubbed International Observe the Moon Night. Astronomers, educators and sky enthusiasts from around the world have set the date to encourage people to appreciate our only natural satellite. For teachers, students or the curious, log onto www.observethemoonnight.org for events, activities and moon-related topics. Or simply take a moment to gaze at this wonder, and give a wink in honor of Neil Armstrong.

The Milky Way is waiting overhead

The moon wanes to new phase Saturday the 15th. While you may be able to see a razor-thin cresecent low in the east before sunrise Friday, the moon won’t reappear until Tuesday, low in the west for less than an hour after sunset. But given the chance, you’ll want to catch it, forming a wide obtuse triangle with Saturn slightly higher to the right and Mars higher still to the left. The next night, the scene repeats itself, except the growing moon is now the highest point of the three.