Jimmy Westlake columns


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Jimmy Westlake: A late Easter this year

Have you ever wondered why the date of Easter Sunday hops around from year to year? Sometimes it falls in March and sometimes, in April. In fact, Easter Sunday can come as early as March 22 or as late as April 25.

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Jimmy Westlake: Total lunar eclipse due here Monday

Total eclipses of the moon are unusual, but not rare. On April 14 and 15, we will be treated to the first total lunar eclipse of the upcoming tetrad.

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Jimmy Westlake: Red planet, red moon

Move over, Jupiter. There’s another bright planet poised to enter our evening sky in early April. You might already have noticed it, hovering over the eastern mountains about 10 p.m. It’s the planet Mars, and the Earth is rapidly approaching Mars for the closest approach we’ve had in six years.

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Jimmy Westlake: How the lion lost its tail

You can see it high in the eastern sky on spring evenings as a splash of several dozen faint stars, not far from the familiar outline of the Big Dipper. This is our constellation called Coma Berenices, or Queen Berenice’s Hair, and it is one of only a handful of constellations associated with a real person rather than a mythological one.

Jimmy Westake: Equinoxes and Easter

This year, the season of spring officially arrives in the Northern Hemisphere at 10:57 a.m. Thursday. That’s the moment that the sun crosses the equator on its way north, what we call the vernal equinox.

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Jimmy Westlake: Looking for Cancer

Of the 12 constellations of the zodiac, which mark the sun’s annual path through our sky, Cancer the Crab is the faintest and most challenging to locate. By the first week of March, the Crab has climbed high up in our eastern sky, tucked in between the more prominent constellations of Gemini the Twins to the west and Leo the Lion to the east.

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Jimmy Westlake: Canis Minor — playing 2nd fiddle

Canis Major has its flashy alpha star, Sirius, outshining all of the other stars in the area, even Canis Minor’s very bright star Procyon. So, I’m dedicating this Celestial News to all the “little dogs” out there, and Canis Minor in particular.

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Jimmy Westlake: Stalking the Unicorn

The celestial Unicorn is a relative newcomer to the sky. It doesn’t date back to the time of the Babylonians or ancient Greeks, as many of our constellations do, but seems to have appeared from out of nowhere on a star chart published in 1624 by Jakob Bartsch, the son-in-law of famed astronomer Johannes Kepler.

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Jimmy Westlake: The Pleiades

High overhead as darkness falls on crisp February evenings is a tiny cluster of stars that often is mistaken for the Little Dipper. Although it does have a dipper shape, with a tiny bowl and a tiny handle, its ancient name is the Pleiades star cluster.

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Jimmy Westlake: A night at the Crystal Observatory

What can you expect to see and do at the Crystal Observatory?

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Jimmy Westlake: Supernova explodes in neighbor galaxy

Astronomers who study the violent deaths of stars must look to other nearby galaxies to have a reasonable chance of seeing and studying one. That’s why the appearance of a type Ia supernova in a nearby galaxy last week has created such excitement in the astronomical community.

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Jimmy Westlake: See the great nebula in Orion

The three bright stars in a neat little row stand out among the other stars like a neon sign. Some call them the Three Marys, others, the Three Wise Men, but officially, these three stars mark the Belt of Orion, the Hunter.

Jimmy Westlake: Beneath Orion’s feet

Orion the Hunter rules the winter sky, but, if you can pull your eyes away from his magnificence, you can use Orion to find some other cool constellations.

Jimmy Westlake: Goodbye Venus – Hello Jupiter

Venus and Jupiter are both closer to the Earth this week than they will be all year, but on opposite sides of our planet – Venus on the sunward side and Jupiter on the anti-sunward side.

Jimmy Westlake: Meteor shower rings In 2014

Early risers on the mornings of Friday, Jan. 3 and Saturday, Jan. 4 might see as many as 40 to 60 meteors per hour in the dark hours before sunrise.