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Jimmy Westlake

Stories by Jimmy

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Jimmy Westlake: The 'Wonderful' and 'Demon' stars

Most stars shine with a constant brightness in our sky throughout the eons of time, however, a few stars do not. These are the variable stars whose light output can change in a matter of minutes or months. Our autumn sky holds two of the most spectacular variable stars known to astronomers and both can be observed with nothing more than your naked eyes.

Jimmy Westlake: Prospects dimmer for Comet ISON

Comet ISON, the potential “super comet” discovered last year, is not brightening as much as comet watchers would like to see as it approaches the sun. If this trend continues, then the comet might not live up to the most optimistic predictions.

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Jimmy Westlake: Cassiopeia ushers in autumn

Summer is slipping away, and the changing constellations are a sure sign of autumn’s approach. The Big Dipper that rode high in the sky during spring and summer evenings now is sinking into the northwest. The Summer Triangle, too, is migrating westward. A whole cast of new celestial characters is rising in the east to take their places.

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Jimmy Westlake: 1 morning, 2 ‘new’ stars

Friday morning was a remarkable morning and unique to my 50-plus years of stargazing. Two “new” stars were visible in the sky at one time, a nova and a supernova.

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Jimmy Westlake: Blue moon due this month

This month, you will have an opportunity to witness an unusual blue moon, but don’t expect to go outside and see a blue-colored moon staring back at you.

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Jimmy Westlake: A great year for Perseid meteors

The annual Perseid meteor shower is underway and is expected to peak midday Monday. That means the predawn hours of Monday and Tuesday should provide lots of beautiful shooting stars for skywatchers in Colorado.

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Jimmy Westlake: Summertime’s delightful dolphin

Even though Delphinus the Dolphin contains no star brighter than third magnitude, one’s eye is immediately drawn to its small, distinctive shape.

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Jimmy Westlake: Spot the Summer Triangle

When the summer sun goes down, three of the first stars to peak through the lingering twilight are the trio of bright stars that form the unmistakable asterism called the Summer Triangle, high in the northeastern sky.

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Jimmy Westlake: The season of the Scorpion

There aren’t many constellations that resemble the objects or creatures for which they are named. Scorpius, the Scorpion, is a delightful example of one that does.

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Jimmy Westlake: Be a proud Ophiuchan

Raise your hand if you’re an Ophiuchan. Hmm … I’m not seeing many hands out there. Perhaps you are an Ophiuchan and you don’t know it. Allow me to explain.

Jimmy Westlake: Don’t miss the double evening star

The solar system’s two innermost planets, Mercury and Venus, behave differently than the rest of the planets.

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Jimmy Westlake: Three Leaps of the Gazelle

I love star lore. The legends and stories attached to the stars carry us back centuries and tell us not only about the stars, but also about the stargazers of old.

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Jimmy Westlake: Planets gather in evening sky

The five naked-eye planets — Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn — are among the brightest objects visible in our earthly sky. These wandering stars occasionally pass close to one another as they thread their way through the 12 constellations of the zodiac.

Jimmy Westlake: Libra – the misfit of the Zodiac

In the course of one year, the sun makes a 360-degree circuit of the celestial sphere, passing in front of 12 different constellations in the background. These are the 12 constellations of the zodiac.

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Jimmy Westlake: Saturn moves into our evening sky

For the past few months, Jupiter has been the only planet visible during the early evening. Well, move over, Jupiter — Saturn is moving in.

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Jimmy Westlake: Conquering the Hydra

What has nine heads, deadly breath, poisonous blood and stretches nearly one-third of the way around the whole sky? It’s the dreaded sea serpent known as the Hydra, defeated by Hercules in the second of his twelve labors and now forming the largest of our 88 constellations.

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Jimmy Westlake: The big and little dippers

The celestial Bears, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, are coming out of their winter hibernation and can be seen parading around the north celestial pole this month.

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Jimmy Westlake: Diamond in the sky

The Spring Diamond asterism, also known as the Virgin’s Diamond, is marked at its corners by four of the brightest stars adorning the spring sky.

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Jimmy Westlake: Bidding farewell to Comet PanSTARRS

Comet PanSTARRS, the first of two bright comets expected this year, already has reached its peak brightness and is fading as it heads back to the outer solar system.

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Jimmy Westlake: Auroras return to the Yampa Valley

It’s been a long time since the aurora borealis has been seen in the Yampa Valley. The last good one I can recall was in November 2004. While most folks were snug in their beds during the wee hours of St. Patrick’s Day morning, a 1-billion-ton cloud of hot plasma, ejected from the sun Friday, slammed into the Earth’s protective magnetic field and sparked a moderate geomagnetic storm, sending auroras as far south as northern Colorado.

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Jimmy Westlake: Comet PanSTARRS at its peak

Comet PanSTARRS has entered our evening sky and will be at its very best in the week ahead. The comet is intrinsically bright, but it is so close to the sun right now that it cannot be viewed in a totally darkened sky.

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Jimmy Westlake: Get ready for Comet PanSTARRS

Named for the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System atop Haleakala volcano on the island of Maui, Comet PanSTARRS is the first of a potential trifecta of bright comets coming in 2013.

Jimmy Westlake: It’s a shooting gallery out there

I have a recurring dream that a meteorite lands in my backyard and buries itself in a crater. I run out and sit on top of it, guarding it with a shotgun. Only in my dreams. For the good folks living in and near the town of Chelyabinsk, Russia, it was no dream.

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Jimmy Westlake: The face of a bull

“Beautiful” isn’t a word one usually uses to describe the face of a bull, but Taurus, the celestial bull, is an exception. The familiar V-shaped asterism of Taurus’ face hanging high in our winter sky is like no other group of stars visible from Earth.

Jimmy Westlake: Meet the Gemini twins

High overhead on February evenings you’ll find a close pair of bright stars, nearly equal in brightness. After seeing these stars, you probably would not be surprised to learn they always have been associated with the mythological Gemini twins.

Jimmy Westlake: A rodent’s input on a seasonal date

Groundhog Day is coming up this week, marking the midpoint of winter. The tradition of this unusual holiday can be traced back many centuries, though not in the same form that we celebrate it today.

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Jimmy Westlake: The full moons of 2013

This month’s Snow Moon provides a wonderful opportunity for a snowshoe hike after sunset — and it just might tell you when that next big snowstorm is coming.

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Jimmy Westlake: When the moon meets Jupiter

After the sun goes down Jan. 21, step outside and marvel at the 10-day-old waxing gibbous moon and the dazzling planet Jupiter sitting side by side. The two will be less than 1 degree apart for most of the early evening.

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Jimmy Westlake: Winter’s hexagon of stars

At about 8 p.m. on cold January evenings, you can spot the Winter Hexagon of stars. It spotlights eight of the 20 brightest stars in Earthly skies — and five of these are in the top 10: Sirius, Capella, Rigel, Procyon and Betelgeuse.

Jimmy Westlake's 2013 Cosmic Calendar of Celestial Events

Jimmy Westlake's 2013 Cosmic Calendar of Celestial Events

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Jimmy Westlake’s top 10 celestial events for 2013

2013 will be the Year of the Comet. If they live up to their potential, Comet PanSTARRS and Comet ISON will be the real headline grabbers in 2013, but there are plenty of bright planets and showers of shooting stars to keep us looking up all year long.

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Jimmy Westlake: Quadrantid meteors to light the sky

No need to fret if you missed the dazzling Geminid meteor showers earlier this month — January's Quadrantid meteor shower provides another great opportunity to watch so-called "shooting stars" light up the evening sky over Northwest Colorado.

Jimmy Westlake: Doomsday or just another solstice?

I’m a survivor. I must be, but I don’t know how or why. I have survived doomsday many times over and have lived to tell the tale.

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Jimmy Westlake: Here come the Geminids

Get ready, because here comes the best meteor shower of the year. It’s the annual Geminid meteor shower and, if the sky is clear, we could be treated to 120 shooting stars per hour on the night of the shower’s peak.

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Jimmy Westlake: The colors of Orion

Now that the full moon is out of the way for another month, it’s time to do some stargazing. At the top of your list should be the magnificent constellation of Orion the Hunter.

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Jimmy Westlake: Awaiting the big news from Mars

NASA’s intrepid robotic explorer Curiosity has made a significant discovery this month in the red sands of Mars, but NASA officials are being very tight-lipped about what that discovery is.

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Jimmy Westlake: Tale of 2 clusters

Stars are born in clusters — families of dozens to hundreds of stars that share the same age and chemical makeup — but they don’t remain in clusters their whole lives.

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Jimmy Westlake: Jupiter rules the night

Have you noticed the really bright “star” rising over the eastern mountains shortly after darkness falls? It’s not really a star at all — it’s the giant planet Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system.

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Jimmy Westlake: Catch a view of Pisces the Fish this month

Tucked in just beneath the constellations of Pegasus and Andromeda, Pisces represents the mythological characters of Venus and her son Cupid.

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Jimmy Westlake: Sea monster fills eastern sky

Wedged in between the bright star Fomalhaut to the south and the glittering Pleiades star cluster to the east is the huge, lumbering constellation of Cetus the Whale.

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Jimmy Westlake: View Southern Fish this month

Shining brightly in the southern sky as darkness falls is one of autumn’s few bright stars, a blue gem named Fomalhaut (pronounced FOAM-a-low).

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Jimmy Westlake: Here come the Orionid meteors

Did you see Halley’s Comet when it sailed past Earth in 1985 and 1986? If not, you’ll have to wait until 2061 for another chance, because Halley’s Comet only comes around once every 76 years.

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Jimmy Westlake: Super comet coming next year?

This week I have some really exciting celestial news to share. Astronomers have announced the discovery of a new comet that might — and I emphasize might — become the brightest comet seen from the Northern Hemisphere in many decades, if not centuries.

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Jimmy Westlake: The harvest moon illusion

The first full moon of autumn traditionally is called the “harvest moon.” Watch for that big harvest moon to rise over the eastern mountains.

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Jimmy Westlake: See 3 galaxies this week

What’s the farthest thing you can see without a telescope? Would you believe 15,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles on a clear night? That’s 15 quintillion miles!

Jimmy Westlake: Thanks, Neil, for everything

I was going into the 11th grade when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on another world. It was the hot summer of ’69 and I was visiting my Aunt Alice in Appleton City, Mo.

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Jimmy Westlake: The Eyes of the Dragon

Peering at us on late-summer evenings are the twinkling eyes of Draco the Dragon. This constellation represents Ladon, the dragon that guarded the golden apples of the Hesperides in Greek mythology.

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Jimmy Westlake: Blue moon due Friday

Have you ever seen a blue moon hanging up in the sky? Well, this month you can, but you might be surprised to learn that a “blue moon” has nothing at all to do with the moon’s color.

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Jimmy Westlake: The giants of summer

Two very large constellations, Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer and Hercules the Strong Man, take up a large chunk of our late-summer sky. We see them standing head to head, high up in the southern sky as darkness falls.

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Jimmy Westlake: The teapot at the end of the Milky Way

Legend has it that a pot of gold awaits you at the end of the rainbow, if you are lucky enough to find it. No luck at all is required, however, to find the pot of tea at the end of the Milky Way.