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Volume 14, Issue 25 ~ June 22 - June 28, 2006

Sky Watch

by J. Alex Knoll

Bright Lights through the Night

The moon wanes through the end of the week, reaching new phase Sunday. Around 4am Friday and less than two hours before sunrise, a sliver of moon rises into view, and beside it is brilliant Venus. Venus remains more or less in place over the next couple weeks before losing ground to the sun.

With the new week, an equally thin sliver of moon reappears in the west on the heels of the setting sun. Tuesday evening, look due west immediately after sunset, at 8:37, for the new crescent moon. Once you’ve spotted the moon, you may be able to pick out Mercury, close to the horizon and nearing the end of this apparition but still as bright as any star.

About the same distance above the thin crescent moon is Saturn and a little higher still is Mars. After last week’s conjunction, Saturn and Mars are fast putting distance between one another. Saturn slips toward the horizon over the next couple weeks, while much dimmer Mars holds its own and even climbs a little higher into the sky before plummeting toward the horizon late next month.

Only Jupiter remains a fixture through the night and even a few hours in the early morning sky. The gaseous giant appears high in the south at sunset, leading the zodiacal constellations of summer westward. By midnight, Jupiter shines in the southwest and sets less than three hours later just south of due west.

If solstice and hot, humid weather weren’t enough to cue you to the arrival of summer, the bright red light of Antares rising in the southeast at sunset might. The annual return of this star and its constellation, Scorpius, coincides with the sun’s withering heat. In Greek mythology, this is a result of the boy Phaeton, who stole Apollo’s horse-drawn chariot. The inexperienced youth led the steeds too close to the scorpion, which sent the team bolting through the heavens, scorching the earth and drying lakes and rivers.

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