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Solar Highway

July 12, 2013

The “solar highway” curves low across the southern sky on July evenings, outlining the path the Sun will follow during the cooler days of fall and winter. The path is outlined by some of the brightest objects in the night sky.

As night begins to fall, the brightest of them all, the Moon, is quite low in the west. It’s a thickening crescent, with the Sun illuminating roughly one-fifth of the lunar hemisphere that faces Earth. As the night darkens, though, the rest of the lunar disk is illuminated by bright earthshine — sunlight reflected off our own planet.

Regulus, the brightest star of Leo, is well to the right of the Moon. And to the lower right of Regulus is the second-brightest object in the night sky — the planet Venus, which is early in a long run as the “evening star.” It sets about the time the sky gets completely dark, but it’ll climb into better view as the summer rolls on.

Two other bright objects stand about a third of the way up the sky in the southwest: the star Spica and the planet Saturn. Saturn is a little higher and slightly brighter, with Spica to its lower right.

And one more bright pinpoint is low in the south: Antares, the leading light of Scorpius. It shines with a distinctly orange hue, so it’s hard to miss. It arcs a little higher over the following couple of hours, then nosedives toward the southwestern horizon, where it disappears by around 2 or 3 in the morning — a bright marker on the solar highway.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2013

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