Jimmy Westlake columns

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Jimmy Westlake: Auriga, the Charioteer

What’s that flashy, golden star hovering over the northeastern mountains as darkness falls in late November? It’s Capella, the third-brightest star visible in Colorado skies and the brightest star in the constellation of Auriga, the Charioteer.

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Jimmy Westlake: Looking down on the universe

Our Milky Way is flat, like a pancake made of star batter. It’s a spinning disk of stars about 100,000 light-years across but only 3,000 light-years thick. During the early evenings of late spring, we are positioned so that we can look straight up out of the top of our Milky Way pancake and into the intergalactic space that forms the rooftop of the sky.

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Jimmy Westlake: First comet landing expected Wednesday

If all goes according to plan, a little space probe named Philae will separate from the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft late Tuesday and make the first controlled landing on the surface of a comet Wednesday morning.

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Jimmy Westlake: See autumn’s trio of triangles

Nestled in between the constellations of Andromeda, Perseus and Pisces is a delightful little trio of stellar triangles, visible on crisp November evenings. Each triangle has an interesting history, all its own.

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Jimmy Westlake: Watch for Halloween fireballs

Don’t be surprised if you see a blazing fireball or two streaking across the heavens while you are out trick-or-treating this Halloween season. There’s no reason for alarm. It’s just the annual Taurid meteor showers reaching their peak of activity.

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Jimmy Westlake: Partial solar eclipse coming Thursday

Thursday’s eclipse begins at about 3:20 p.m. when the moon will take the first little “bite” out of the solar disk. Maximum eclipse is at 4:35 p.m.

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Jimmy Westlake: New comet to buzz Mars on Sunday

Mars and Comet Siding Spring will be about 1.6 astronomical units from the Earth (about 150 million miles) at the time of closest approach, around midday Sunday. Amateur astronomers with telescopes 8 inches in diameter or larger might be able to view the very faint comet and Mars together, side by side, in their telescope that night and the night before closest approach.

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Jimmy Westlake: With a name like Uranus

I am writing today to inform you that now is the prime time to see Uranus up in the sky. Uranus, with its dingy rings and its entourage of 27 moons, will be closest to the Earth for this year on the night of Oct. 7, an event called opposition.

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Jimmy Westlake: Total lunar eclipse coming next week

The second total eclipse of the moon this year happens during the wee morning hours of Oct. 8 when the full Harvest Moon once again slips into the shadow of the Earth.

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Jimmy Westlake: Spot Aquila the Eagle this week

Stroll outside on any early fall evening, look straight up, and there, three very bright stars will catch your eye, forming a giant triangle. The three stars are named Vega, Deneb and Altair and their familiar pattern is nicknamed the Summer Triangle.

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Jimmy Westlake: Lyra is heaven’s little harp

Vega is the alpha star in the constellation named Lyra, the Harp, and lies a mere 25 light years from Earth.

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Jimmy Westlake: Cygnus takes center stage

Vega, Deneb, and Altair — these are the three bright stars marking the corners of the Summer Triangle, the most prominent star pattern of late summer.

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Jimmy Westlake: Take the Neptune challenge

If you know right where to look, catching a glimpse of Neptune is not all that tough. I hereby challenge you to do something that few people have accomplished: find the planet Neptune with your binoculars.

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Jimmy Westlake: Cassiopeia hosts Comet Jacques this week

Passing close to the "W" of Cassiopeia this week is the little green fuzz ball called Comet Jacques. Discovered last March 13, Comet Jacques is due to pass a safe 52.4 million miles from Earth on Thursday.

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Jimmy Westlake: The Scutum Star Cloud

Scutum is an obscure little constellation, to be sure, with no star brighter than fourth magnitude and ranking only fourth in size among all the constellations. Even so, it is an easy constellation to find in the summer sky.