Jimmy Westlake columns

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Jimmy Westlake: Are you an Ophiuchan?

You can spot the gigantic house-shaped outline of the constellation of Ophiuchus high in the southeastern sky around 11 p.m. in early June. Look for him holding onto his pet serpent just above the fishhook-shaped pattern of Scorpius the Scorpion.

Jimmy Westlake: Spot the 'Horse and Rider'

If you have good vision, you can make out an eighth star in the Big Dipper, right beside Mizar, the star at the crook in the Dipper’s handle. This little star is Alcor. Mizar and Alcor have been known since antiquity as the “Horse and Rider.”

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Jimmy Westlake: New meteor shower due Friday night

This coming Friday night and Saturday morning, if astronomers’ calculations are correct, we might be treated to a brand-new meteor shower, possibly even a meteor storm.

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Jimmy Westlake: Catch Mercury at its best

Mercury and Venus each spend a brief time in our sky as an “evening star,” followed by a brief engagement as a “morning star.”

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Jimmy Westlake: Saturn joins the planet parade

Four bright planets will march across our early evening sky this month. Jupiter and Mars have already been in place for weeks, but Saturn will join the planet parade next week.

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Jimmy Westlake: The pivot of the sky

Just by coincidence, the Earth’s axis points almost directly at Polaris so that, as Earth spins, Polaris remains nearly motionless throughout the night – the pivot point for the whole sky.

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Jimmy Westlake: Spot Corvus and Crater in our spring sky

The four main stars of Corvus form an unmistakable kite-shaped pattern located one-third of the way up in our southern sky about 10 p.m. in late April. The distinctive pattern makes Corvus easy to spot.

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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.