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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Living in interesting times

Thursday, June 9, 2011

There is an old curse that says, "May you live in interesting times." I don't know if we are cursed or not, but there are some interesting things to look for this week.

Let's start in the north. Our old friends the Big and Little Dippers can be found there. However, right now they are in an interesting configuration.

About a hour after sunset tonight go outside and look due north. The Big Dipper is riding slightly left of due north, but Polaris, the North Star, is right on the meridian, the line that separates the eastern and western hemisphere.

Polaris is the end star in the handle of the Little Dipper, and the way it is located now the dipper portion looks like a balloon tied to Polaris. The Big Dipper is to the upper left with its handle sticking straight up into the sky with the dipper looking like it is pouring its contents out onto the Earth.

Directly below the pair is Cassiopeia, right on the horizon looking like the a big capital letter "W."

Moving to the right, or into the eastern sky, the Summer Triangle of Deneb, Vega, and Altair are just above the horizon. Deneb, the tail star in Cygnus, the Swan is the leftmost, Vega, the brightest star in Lyra, the Harp is the highest and Altair, the brightest star in Aquila, the Eagle is just clearing the horizon.

As the season continues watch for these three to rise earlier and higher each evening.

Looking south the head of Scorpius, the Scorpion is just above the horizon with its brightest star, Antares, showing nicely.

Continuing right into the southeastern sky find the first quarter moon is not quite halfway between Regulus, the brightest star in Leo, the Lion, and Spica, the brightest star in Virgo, the Maiden.

There is something better in this area, the planet Saturn is between the moon and Spica, in fact, it is a little brighter than Spica.

Track the moon for the next two nights and it will move to the other side of Saturn toward Spica and the next night, June 11, it will be on the other side of Spica.

Follow the moon each night as it travels toward the east. On Tuesday, June 14, find the almost-full moon very near Antares in Scorpius. Look about two hours after sunset, or about 10 p.m. MDT.

Now, let's go back to Saturn. Check out the planet in binoculars or a small telescope and you will find a star less than one degree above the planet. This is the star Porrima.

Since the beginning of the year Saturn has been moving in retrograde (backwards) across the sky towards Porrima. On Wednesday, June 8 it reached its closest point to the star. Now it will start back toward the east in proper motion.

If you look carefully at Saturn you may see its brightest moon, Titan, just to the planet's left, and if you look really carefully on the other side of Saturn you might be able to see another moon of Saturn, Iapetus.

Sky Watch:

First quarter moon, June 8, full moon, June 15.

Next Week:

More astronomical blathering.

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Vernon Whetstone
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