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Many Americans have never really seen the night sky. They get a good view of the Moon, the planets, and a few bright stars. But they can’t see the full star patterns that outline the constellations, or the faint sparks known as meteors. And they don’t have a chance of seeing the subtle yet awesome band of the Milky Way — the combined glow of millions of individual stars.
That’s because most Americans live under a blanket of light pollution. The lights that illuminate streets, businesses, sports arenas, and even our own back yards cast a glow into the sky. This light bounces off dust grains, as well as the molecules of gas that make up the atmosphere, filling the sky with light. So the bigger and brighter the city, the murkier the skies.
And at times, a big natural light source blots out many of the subtleties of the night sky as well: the Moon. That’s especially true on nights like tonight. The Moon is just past full as it rises this evening, so it’s a big spotlight that’s in the sky all night. Even from locations far from city lights, the brilliant Moon can still overpower much of the view.
So on nights with a bright Moon, even those with otherwise dark skies have a limited menu of items to look for in the sky. Tonight, one of the stars that shines through is Capella, the leading light of Auriga, the charioteer. It’s off to the left or upper left of the Moon in early evening — a star that shines through the glow of a moonlit night.
Script by Damond Benningfield