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Shining Lights in the Night

Stars, planets, even distant clusters brighten the dark

Mercury remains poised above the west-northwest horizon after sunset, which stretches to 8:10 this week. While it reaches its highest point above the skyline Wednesday the 14th, Mercury was its brightest last week. Both inner planets cross between the sun and earth in their orbits, producing phases like the moon. Alas, Mercury reached full almost a month ago while bleached out by the sun and is now waning past last-quarter.

Sunset finds Mars high in the west and Saturn high in the southwest. Aside from its distinct red hue and its steady light, you might easily confuse Mars with nearby Castor, which shines blue-white, or golden Pollux twinkling amid Gemini. Both stars are more or less the same brightness as Mars, as opposed to brilliant Procyon, the sixth-brightest star in the Northern Hemisphere, which shines closer to the horizon in the otherwise dim constellation of Canis Minor. Look for the moon to join the fray at week’s end, when it’s less than 10 degrees below Mars Friday evening and above Mars Saturday with even less space between the two.

Saturday’s moon shines amid Cancer, faintest of the zodiac constellations. More remarkable than any of the stars in this Y-shaped grouping is the fuzz of light at center, the Beehive Cluster, a distant grouping of some 75 stars that buzz into focus with binoculars or a small telescope.

Saturn, too, shares company with the moon, which appears just a few degrees below the ringed planet Monday evening. Saturn is far from its brightest, and in fact barely outshines nearby Regulus, the heart of Leo the lion.


Illustration: © Copyright 1925 M.C. Escher/Cordon Art-Baarn-Holland; Graphics: © Copyright 2007 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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