Skywatch: Look for the Dog Star early this week

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As mentioned in last week’s Skywatch, Orion, the hunter, has returned to the heavens.

Typically a prominent constellation in the winter it can be found in the morning sky in the south before dawn. The constellation is hard to miss. If you can find the three stars that make up Orion’s belt it’s pretty easy to fill in the blanks.

You can use those three stars this week to locate the brightest star in the sky, Sirius. Also known as the “Dog Star,” it’s part of the constellation Canis Major or “the greater dog” in Latin.

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Look for the First Quarter Moon on Tuesday night. Technically reaching that phase at 2:25 A.M. Wednesday morning, the half moon is a special one this month.

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A long time ago, the astronomer Johannes Kepler discovered that planets and other heavenly bodies, don’t have circular orbits.

They’re actually elliptical orbits, this includes our moon as it revolves about our planet. As a result there will be times when the moon is closer to the planet and times when it’s farther away.

When it’s closest we have a perigee, when it’s at its farthest we call it the apogee. This First Quarter Moon will coincide with this lunar cycle’s perigee. 2017 will actually see 13 perigees and 13 apogees during the year.

At 12:06 Wednesday afternoon, this perigee will be 229,820 miles from earth marking the farthest perigee of the 13 this year. It’s may sound weird calling it the “farthest close moon of 2017” but that’s exactly what it is.

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On Saturday morning look for a spectacular planetary conjunction in the sky. A conjunction is when two objects pass closely in the night sky. Keep in mind they’re not actually close, they just appear to be from our vantage point on Earth.

The conjunction of Mars and Mercury will occur before sunrise on the September 16th. The two will hang low in the sky so you’ll have to be somewhere where you can get a good look at the horizon to observe this.

Look in the East about an hour to an hour-and-a-half before sunrise for the best view. Venus and the moon will be above the two and fairly easy to spot.

Happy hunting!