Cosmic lights for holiday nights

Friday December 14, 2012

Twilight in the afternoon and twilight in the morning are yelping beautiful, especially now!

This evening, catch the very first wisp of a crescent moon before it softly sets in the southwest at 6:13 p.m., barely two hours after the sundown.

Ruddy Mars will be to the left of the crescent, punctuating the concave curve. See bright star Formalhaut, "the mouth of the fish," to the left (south) of Mars. Since the red planet is so low in the sky, the presence of the moon nearby makes for ease of locating it. A clear, unobstructed view of the southwest horizon is of the essence.

Tomorrow, find Mars below the delicate moon. Mars will set at 6:28 p.m. Moonset is an hour later. To the right (west), the Summer Triangle -- a pattern composed of three bright stars that dominate the sky all night in warm weather -- lingers for several hours after sunset. Its brightest star, Vega, is the third brightest star visible in the northern hemisphere and the first to appear at dusk. Vega sets in the northwest at around 10 p.m.

Shortly after the sun sets in the southwest, look to the northeast to spot brilliant planet Jupiter. Later, at 8:03 p.m. today, Sirius, the brightest star in our skies, climbs above the southeastern horizon.

According to an ancient Greek legend, there's a two-week period of tranquility that surrounds the winter solstice. Known as "halcyon days," they begin today and last until the Dec. 28. Be outdoors at dawn and dusk and you will know the meaning of halcyon days.

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