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Volume XVII, Issue 3 - January 15 - January 21, 2009
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Sky Watch by J. Alex Knoll

A Night of Wintery Lights

Two planets and six elite stars punctuate our sky

The sun dips beneath the southwest horizon at 5:10 Saturday, setting more than a minute later each evening. As the sky darkens, the evening star Venus appears high in the southwest and is the brightest light visible before setting due west at 9pm. Venus appears particularly bright amid the ethereal constellations Aquarius and Pisces. The nearest first-magnitude star, Fomalhaut, of Piscis Austrinus, is more than 20 degrees beneath Venus.

As Venus sets at one end of the heavens, Saturn rises at the other, another bright golden light outshining all else until the waning moon rises after midnight. By then the ringed planet is high in the east, arching westward until it is high in the west at dawn, around 7:20. Saturn stands far-removed from any distinct stars. Twenty degrees above the ringed planet shines Regulus, the heart of Leo the lion. Trailing the same distance behind Saturn is Virgo’s brilliant star Spica, which the moon flanks to the west before dawn Saturday and to the east before dawn Sunday.

While no competition for Venus or Saturn, six of the 20 brightest stars shine overhead this time of year as the Great Winter Circle. Overhead at 9pm is golden Capella of Auriga the charioteer. Aldebaran, the red eye of Taurus, shines to the south. Farther below is Orion’s foot Rigel, and at his heel is the dog Canis Major, punctuated by Sirius, the brightest of all stars. Clockwise to the northeast trails the little dog Procyon of Canis Minor. Finally, the immortal Pollux closes the circle, his mortal twin brother Castor close by but not bright enough to make the cut. Marking the circle’s center is the red giant Betelgeuse, Orion’s shoulder


Illustration: © Copyright 1925 M.C. Escher/Cordon Art-Baarn-Holland; Graphics: © Copyright 2009 Pacific Publishers. Reprinted by permission from the Tidelog graphic almanac. Bound copies of the annual Tidelog for Chesapeake Bay are $14.95 ppd. from Pacific Publishers, Box 480, Bolinas, CA 94924. Phone 415-868-2909. Weather affects tides. This information is believed to be reliable but no guarantee of accuracy is made by Bay Weekly or Pacific Publishers. The actual layout of Tidelog differs from that used in Bay Weekly. Tidelog graphics are repositioned to reflect Bay Weekly’s distribution cycle.Tides are based on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and are positioned to coincide with high and low tides of Tidelog.

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