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Moon, Venus, and Mars

Sat, 31 Dec 2016 06:00:00 +0000

The crescent Moon perches quite low in the southwest at nightfall. Venus, the “evening star,” stands to the upper left of the Moon, with the fainter planet Mars to the upper left of Venus.

Orion’s Footstool

Fri, 30 Dec 2016 06:00:00 +0000

Just northwest of Rigel, the bright blue-white star that marks the left leg of Orion, look for Cursa, “Orion’s footstool.” Cursa is the second-brightest star in Eridanus, the river. The star is in the southeast in mid-evening.

Birth of a Giant

Thu, 29 Dec 2016 06:00:00 +0000

Betelgeuse, the second-brightest star of Orion, is one of the most impressive stars in the galaxy. It is many times bigger and heavier than the Sun, and tens of thousands of times brighter. It also has an impressive fate: it will explode as a supernova.

New Moon

Wed, 28 Dec 2016 06:00:00 +0000

The Moon reaches its new phase at 12:53 a.m. CST tomorrow, when it crosses between Earth and Sun and is lost in the Sun’s glare. It will return to view in a couple of days as a thin crescent in the southwest in early evening.


Tue, 27 Dec 2016 06:00:00 +0000

Canopus, the second-brightest star in the night sky, is visible for a couple of hours after midnight from southern latitudes. It is below Sirius, the brightest star, and not far above the horizon.

Northern Cross

Mon, 26 Dec 2016 06:00:00 +0000

The brightest star in the Northern Cross, which stands atop the northwestern horizon a couple of hours after sunset, is Deneb, which is at the top of the cross. At the bottom of the cross is Albireo, which is actually a pair of stars 400 light-years away.

Evening Sights

Sun, 25 Dec 2016 06:00:00 +0000

Venus, the “evening star,” is low in the southwest at nightfall. Mars is to the upper left of Venus, shining pale orange. And the Summer Triangle perches to the right of the two planets, with its highest point marked by Deneb, the tail of Cygnus, the swan.

Christmas Skies

Sat, 24 Dec 2016 06:00:00 +0000

Look in the southeast in mid-evening for dazzling Orion. Find its three-star belt, which aims straight up and down. It is flanked by the bright orange star Betelgeuse on the left, and the bright blue star Rigel on the right.

Spring Preview

Fri, 23 Dec 2016 06:00:00 +0000

Winter is just starting, but you can already find a hint of spring in the pre-dawn sky. The stars and constellations that are in view a couple of hours before sunrise will be in view a couple of hours after sunset in late April.

Moon and Spica

Thu, 22 Dec 2016 06:00:00 +0000

Spica, the leading light of Virgo, stands to the right of the Moon at first light tomorrow. The bright planet Jupiter is above Spica. The Spica system consists of two massive, brilliant stars in a very tight orbit.

Moon and Jupiter

Wed, 21 Dec 2016 06:00:00 +0000

Three bright objects stair-step up the sky at first light tomorrow: the Moon, the planet Jupiter, and the star Spica. Jupiter looks like a brilliant star below the Moon, with fainter Spica below Jupiter.

Winter Solstice

Tue, 20 Dec 2016 06:00:00 +0000

Winter starts at 4:44 a.m. CST tomorrow. That’s the time of the December solstice, when the Sun stands farthest south in the sky for the year. The solstice is the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere.

N Columba

Mon, 19 Dec 2016 06:00:00 +0000

The constellation Columba, the dove, rises in the southeast in mid-evening and stands due south around midnight. Its name comes from the story of Jason and the Argonauts, although the dove sometimes is linked to the story of Noah’s Ark.

Barred Spirals

Sun, 18 Dec 2016 06:00:00 +0000

The large constellation Eridanus, the river, flows across the south tonight. One of its treasures is the barred spiral galaxy NGC 1300. It contains a long, fat “bar” of stars in its middle, with spiral arms swirling off the ends of the bar.

Moon and Regulus

Sat, 17 Dec 2016 06:00:00 +0000

Regulus, the heart of the lion, is close to the lower left of the Moon as they climb into view around 11 p.m. What we see as Regulus is a star that is big, bright, and heavy. But it has at least three companions that are too faint to see.

Galactic Matters

Fri, 16 Dec 2016 06:00:00 +0000

Under dark skies, two galaxies are in view tonight: Andromeda and our own Milky Way. The Milky Way forms a faint band across the northern sky. Andromeda stands just above the apex of the Milky Way’s arch and looks like a small, hazy patch of light.

Lunar Impacts

Thu, 15 Dec 2016 06:00:00 +0000

The Moon is scarred by billions of years of impacts. They blasted out big craters and punched holes that filled with molten rock that bubbled up from below. Many of those scars are visible to the eye as the dark features on the lunar disk.

Sun in Ophiuchus

Wed, 14 Dec 2016 06:00:00 +0000

The Sun is passing through Ophiuchus, the serpent-bearer, the thirteenth constellation of the zodiac. Ancient astrologers did not include Ophiuchus on their early charts of the zodiac. The Sun is within its boundaries for more than two weeks.

Long-Night Moon

Tue, 13 Dec 2016 06:00:00 +0000

The Moon is full tonight. December’s full Moon is known as the Moon Before Yule. It’s also known as the Long-Night Moon because it is in view longer than any other full Moon of the year. The moonlight will overpower the Geminid meteor shower.

Moon and Aldebaran

Mon, 12 Dec 2016 06:00:00 +0000

Aldebaran, the star that marks the eye of Taurus the bull, is close to the lower left of the Moon at sunset. Not long afterward, the Moon will cross in front of the star, blocking it from view for up to about an hour.

Evening Mercury

Sun, 11 Dec 2016 06:00:00 +0000

The planet Mercury is putting in a brief evening appearance. It is quite low in the southwest 30 to 45 minutes after sunset, far to the lower right of brilliant Venus. Mercury looks like a fairly bright star, but you may need binoculars to see it.


Sat, 10 Dec 2016 06:00:00 +0000

Capella, one of the brightest stars in the night sky, is in the northeast at nightfall and soars high overhead later on. What we see as Capella is really two stars. Each star is bigger, brighter, and heavier than the Sun.


Fri, 09 Dec 2016 06:00:00 +0000

Vega, one of the night sky’s brightest stars, is disappearing from evening view this month. Tonight, it sets around 9:30 or 10 p.m., but by month’s end it will set by about 8:30. Look for it in early evening, low in the northwest.

Fire and Water

Thu, 08 Dec 2016 06:00:00 +0000

The ancient elements of fire and water sit side by side low in the southern sky at this time of year. Fire is represented by the constellation Fornax, the furnace. To its east is the watery constellation Eridanus, the river.


Wed, 07 Dec 2016 06:00:00 +0000

The faint constellation Sculptor, the sculptor’s workshop, passes across the south and southwest on December evenings. It was one of 14 constellations created in the 1750s by French astronomer Nicolas Louis de la Caille.

Guiding Lights II

Tue, 06 Dec 2016 06:00:00 +0000

The Moon reaches first-quarter tonight, signifying that it is one quarter of the way through its month-long cycle of phases. The cycle reaches its zenith at full Moon on the night of December 13.

Guiding Lights

Mon, 05 Dec 2016 06:00:00 +0000

Three planets line up to the lower right of the Moon tonight. Mars is closest to the Moon, with Venus, the “evening star,” farther along the same line. Mercury is farther still, just above the horizon, and visible mainly from the southern U.S.

Guiding Lights

Mon, 05 Dec 2016 06:00:00 +0000

The Moon stands high in the south not long after sunset this evening, with three planets trailing to its lower right. Mars is the closest to the Moon, with Venus, the “evening star,” farther along the same line. Mercury is farther still, just above the horizon, and visible mainly from the southern half of the country. For the past two and a half centuries, such an alignment has been more than a pretty picture for navigators at sea. It’s helped them determine their longitude — their position east or west on the globe. Such a determination was made possible by two inventions. First was clocks that could keep accurate time at sea. And the second was the Nautical Almanac, a book first published by the British Astronomer Royal 250 years ago. The almanac contained a lot of basic skywatching information. For navigators, though, its most important feature was a daily table of the Moon’s precise distance from bright stars and planets. The distance was listed at three-hour intervals for Greenwich, England. By measuring the angles between the Moon and the other objects, and calculating the difference from Greenwich, a navigator could determine his longitude — a critical detail for safe travels. The United States began publishing its own almanac in the 1850s. The two almanacs linked up in 1960, and in 1981 became the Astronomical Almanac. By then, they’d been joined by one more publication — a key tool for pilots in World War II. More about that tomorrow.   Script by Damond Benningfield     Keywords: Celestial CoordinatesHistoryHistory of AstronomyStarDate: Monday, December 5, 2016Teaser: Guiding ships by the stars[...]

Moon and Mars

Sun, 04 Dec 2016 06:00:00 +0000

The Moon slides past the planet Mars tonight. Mars looks like a bright orange star close to the left of the Moon. The planet Venus, the brilliant “evening star,” stands well to their lower right in early evening.

Moon and Mars

Sun, 04 Dec 2016 06:00:00 +0000

The Moon slides past the planet Mars tonight. Mars looks like a bright orange star close to the left of the Moon. Venus, the “evening star,” stands well to their lower right.

In many ways, Mars is the most Earth-like world in the solar system. And one of those ways is the weather. Mars has clouds, cold fronts, dust storms, frost, and even snow.

The biggest and most menacing weather events are the dust storms. They can cover many thousands of square miles — and on rare occasions, they can blanket the entire planet.

These giant storms usually begin around the start of spring in the northern or southern hemisphere. Frozen water and carbon dioxide in the polar ice caps vaporize and enter the atmosphere. This stirs up the powdery orange dust around the poles, then whips it around the planet. A planet-wide dust storm may have doomed two Soviet landers that arrived at Mars in 1971. Storms could prove troublesome to future human explorers as well.

The Martian clouds typically form thin streamers, not the billowy piles we see on Earth. But when a low-pressure system spins across Mars, the clouds form the same spiral pattern as storm systems here. And the clouds occasionally drop a blanket of fresh snow — made not of water, but of carbon dioxide.

And as dawn breaks across Mars, a layer of frost usually coats the landscape. As the Sun climbs into view, though, the frost quickly vaporizes — leaving the Martian surface bone dry.


Script by Damond Benningfield



Sunday, December 4, 2016
Weather conditions on another planet