Night Lights Column

Night Lights Columnist James “Deep Sky” Cackette is a Yukon Astronomer. James is one of What’s Up Yukon’s original 12 writers! Our local sky expert since February 2005. You can follow him on his facebook page Yukon Night Skies

Tips and hints and other good things: Get ready to enjoy the Yukon night skies

If this is your first night outside, looking at the stars, there are a few things you can do make the experience much more enjoyable. First, make sure you put your telescope outside for a while to acclimatize. Telescopes have metal bodies, glass and mirrors. These items hold onto heat very well. At about –10°C …

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Keep warm, stay watching: Winter star gazing is fun, but you have to know how

Living in the North has many advantages. We have crystal clear skies, no air pollution and many hours of darkness in the winter season. This adds up to excellent opportunities for viewing and taking pictures of the Northern Lights. Another great advantage of living in the North is the extremely dry air. In humid parts …

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Taking on the Winter Cold

It would seem that winter is here in full force, bringing icy cold temperatures that chill you to the bone, unless you are prepared for the onslaught. Are you prepared? Is your observing equipment ready to go out in the frosty Yukon deep winter night for another evening of observing? I have recently received multiple …

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New Toys and a Lunar Eclipse

The hobby of astronomy has always been an art form of simplicity and function. Let’s face it, when starting out in astronomy, the task of getting great views and being comfortable at the same time can seem quite daunting. It is dark out and you are usually bundled up in winter clothing. This, and little …

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April Skies and Eager Eyes

April is the month of great change in the Yukon night sky. It is a time when the constellation of Orion is no longer high in the sky all evening and Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, sets on the horizon early after dusk. As for what else is happening in the sky this …

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Distinguished Guests & Distinguished Night Skies

Is the Yukon the best place for amateur astronomers? And how can I experience and discover the vast night sky? Let’s take these questions and sort them out for our distinguished visitors to the Conference of Science Writers. First of all, astronomy in the Yukon is unique. Most people that I chat with across the …

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Sidetracked by Saturn

The sky is clear and I do not have to work tomorrow. At about 6 p.m., I put my gear out and start to get things prepared for an evening of galaxy hunting; it is, after all, the best time to go hunting for these elusive fuzzy little patches of light. My plan is simple, …

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Lights down and stars up

Every amateur astronomer’s dream is to have totally dark skies, right in their own backyard. No time spent loading all your telescopes, binoculars, tables and gearboxes into your vehicle; just to unload all your gear as you set up at your favourite observing site. Finally, when it is time to go home, you still have …

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Farewell Dark Skies

For the last week I have been heading out to my rooftop to see the constellation Hercules and the bright globular cluster that resides there. Even just using binoculars the view is amazing. Also found in the same region is the constellation of Lyra, which holds the planetary Ring Nebula. It looks like a perfect …

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Charles Messier and the Four Planets in the Evening Sky

With May here it is a good reminder that we only have, at best, five weeks of celestial observation left. Recently, I have dedicated much of my time to Comet PanSTARRS and its travels through the Yukon’s skies. It has been an amazing journey, viewing this little cosmic snowball. Looking forward, the next great cosmic …

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Northern Lights Express

Astronomy and a love for the night sky travels with a person no matter where you go or what you do. In our younger years of life, we have all the time and energy to explore the great cosmos. As a young adult, the real world of responsibilities (careers and children and all that stuff) …

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Imaging the Cosmos … Is It For Me?

Welcome to the Yukon Winter Night Sky and all the cosmic treasures that are just waiting for you to discover and photograph them. The weather has been unstable, with storm fronts continually moving in, bringing lots of clouds and very uncertain night skies. These are trying times for amateur astronomers and completely frustrating times for …

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Cygnus And The Swans Of Fall

Cygnus, the flying swan, is a very important constellation to amateur astronomers that live in this magical northern land of ours. Also referred to as the Northern Cross, this constellation is easily recognizable directly overhead by its distinct cross-like shape. This is the best time of year for viewing Cygnus, and all of its hidden …

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Decembers Planetary Pile Up

If you were taking note of the High Lights in the last issue (and this one), you would have discovered that December is chock full of planetary action. The month started off with a very rare event: on December 1st, Venus, Jupiter and the Crescent Moon joined together in the western sky in the early …

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The Mount Before Christmas

Every once in awhile, the universe and karma come together in some truly spectacular ways. So here is my story … so far. As most of you know by reading these columns, I am an avid fan of obtaining used astronomy equipment and attempting to restore them back to life. This is a great way …

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Yukon Night-Sky Action

Let’s start today’s column with Comet Lulin, which is blazing its way across the Yukon Night Skies. This small and bright comet is really moving quickly across the night sky and can still be seen in binoculars. Moving steadily westward and heading from the constellation of Cancer into the constellation of Gemini. On March 5, …

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A Marathon and a Quick Tour

As March begins, there is excitement in the Yukon Night Sky. It is time for the Messier Marathon. This is an event that most amateur astronomers anxiously await, and the time is just about upon us. So what is a Messier Marathon and what is all this curious excitement about? you ask. Here is a …

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Those Frosty Night Skies

It is Friday evening, the sky is crystal clear and the temperature is a balmy –23 degrees. Add to that a 30-kilometre wind from the south, and you have a wind chill of –39 degrees. For most people this is a good time to stay indoors and sip a nice warm cup of hot chocolate. …

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The Best of the Yukon Night Skies

Springtime night skies offer an endless bounty of galaxies, nebula and star clusters, waiting to be explored. Whether you prefer binoculars or a telescope, there is no other time of year when the night sky is so plentiful with deep-sky objects to observe. The problem, as always, is to have the weather co-operate with your …

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Grey Mountain Adventures

The second Yukon Night Skies Star Party was fun and eventful. The skies cleared for a short time to give us some good viewing. As spring moves forward, our observing time becomes later and later each evening. The night sky is now only starting to get dark at 10 p.m. Better to be safe than …

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Of Gremlins and Star Clusters

Finally, the weekend has arrived; hopefully, the weather will be clear. All the weather-information sources, including Whitehorse Clear Sky Clock and others, seem to agree that Saturday night should be great. Quickly, we send an astro-alert e-mail to let everyone know we are heading up to Grey Mountain Lookout point after 9 p.m. It is …

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The Return of the Big ‘Dob’

I was suffering from aperture fever and was craving bigger and better views … fortunately, my 14-inch Celestron Dobsonian telescope finally arrived. These telescopes offer the best-possible view for the dollar and are of a most simplistic design. There is a large primary mirror at the bottom and a much smaller secondary mirror and focuser …

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A Diamond in the Rough

In astronomy, there are good nights and there are bad nights. A good night is a cosmic gift: cloud-free skies and transparent atmosphere are basic requirements before you get started. Our last outing at Miles Canyon Lookout Point was one of those wonderful sessions where sky conditions were as perfect as the temperature. So, with …

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Comet of the Century

While we were waiting for Comet PanSTARRS to arrive in our skies, we had a chance to get up to the Grey Mountain lookout point. We have not been out to this observation site yet this year, so I was a little apprehensive about the road. But the road is reasonably well ploughed, and was …

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Lunar satellite collision

The month of May is over, and so is observing deep-sky objects such as nebulas and galaxies. The only stellar objects in the sky that are of interest to amateur astronomers are the moon, sun, Jupiter, Saturn and a handful of stars and clusters. Saturn is moving quickly toward the horizon and will soon disappear …

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Those Magical Yukon Night Skies

For Yukon amateur astronomers, time for viewing those amazing night skies will soon vanish, temporarily that is. At this time of year, as soon as it starts to get dark, dawn approaches shortly after. This means you have to be ready and have a list of targets to explore for the evening observing sessions. Being …

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The Martians Are Coming

As the month of October closes and frosty November begins, the window of opportunity for observing Mars begins. This little red planet has captured everyone’s attention and curiosity. Is there life on Mars? and where are the Martians? The Earth and Mars share many similar traits such as the tilt to the planets’ axis, which …

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Yukon Planetary Cavalcade

The dominant planet in the evening sky is fascinating Jupiter. Located in the early-evening southern sky, it is easily recognizable because it is simply the brightest object in the sky. This giant of the solar system always has something for everyone to see. Even with binoculars you can see four of her orbiting moons. In …

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Stellar Views, Quick and Easy

This time of year I am frequently asked the same question: “What is the best gift for someone who wants to get into astronomy and wants to see more than what binoculars can offer?” A box store special telescope is a bad choice for a Christmas present. These telescopes are plagued with problems that are …

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Big View, Small Budget

While the rest of the country is obsessed with the H1N1 virus and cure, Yukon amateur astronomers seem to be looking for a cure of their own — a cure for bad weather. This time of year is renowned for volatile, unstable weather, making for cloudy nights mixed with snowstorms. When cloudy nights persist, however, …

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Grey Mountain Adventures

As December begins, we reflect on the “High Lights” of November. Unsettled weather, with cloudy nights, high winds and snow flurries, offered few good opportunities for observing. From the observer’s log … After being “closed down” for five Saturdays in a row, due to nasty weather, I headed out. The temperature was a balmy minus-eight …

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December’s Dazzling Delights

December is, as always, an action-packed viewing experience full of discovery and adventure for all Yukon amateur astronomers. There are dazzling delights for anyone with binoculars or a telescope and the inclination to look up. All we need now is some clear transparent night skies. November’s weather had proved to be so cloudy that we …

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A Yukon Galileo Moment

As the International Year of Astronomy winds down, I am often asked, “What was it all about?” and “Was there anything to come out of it that the average person in the street could benefit from?” The answer to that last one is a resounding, “Yes!” Let’s take one question at a time. The International …

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Snapshot in Time

Another year is coming to a close and it is time to reflect on the great cosmic events we have seen, and all the fabulous people we have met on this galactic journey. Most people assume astronomy, as a hobby, is sitting all alone in a field with a telescope in the middle of nowhere. …

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Cosmic Silhouettes

The weather is returning to a more normal routine, and although I do love the warmer weather, it does make for cloudy nights, offering few opportunities for deep-sky observing. It is Saturday night, the temperature is minus 18 and the wind is light. All my astronomical viewing forecasters (The Weather Network, Clear Sky Clock and …

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The largest planet, the closest galaxy, and Comet Hartley 2

October is an amazing month for amateur astronomers. Summer constellations like Cygnus, Lyra, Hercules are slowly sinking into the horizon, and winter constellations like Andromeda, Taurus, and Orion are making their way onto the stage of the Yukon night skies. So what are the three best objects to observe in those amazing Yukon night skies? …

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View From the Hill

With all this wonderful warm weather, there is a price to pay for amateur astronomers in the Yukon. As a springtime rule, warm weather brings cloudy and unstable skies. Every once in a while though, we get a break, and the next thing you know you are observing in clear skies with nice warm weather. …

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Perfect Skies = Perfect Viewing

Where are the Northern Lights? The answer as far as I can tell is two-fold. First, we have been pummelled with atrocious weather and, second, most of the Northern Light activity seems to be taking place in the High Arctic. One of my favourite websites (www.spaceweather.com) has an aurora map and alert system for aurora …

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Comet Hartley and Starfest

We are back from an astronomical holiday and raring to go. It is great to be back in such dark Yukon skies with no light pollution. Upon arriving home and taking in the Yukon Night Skies, it is reassuring to see all of the familiar constellations like Cygnus, Lyra, Cassiopeia and Pegasus. Jupiter and her …

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November’s Celestial Musings

The Yukon Night Skies are coming alive with winter constellations like Orion, Taurus, and Gemini. Using a pair of humble binoculars, star clusters, galaxies, and nebula can all be easily seen. The Yukon Night Skies also holds an easily-seen comet, and several planets. So what did I see on my last observing session up on …

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Is There Anything Up There?

As the end of May approaches, and June begins, we notice darkness at midnight. Living in the 60-degree latitude and above means that in the months of June, July and the first week of August, the sky doesn’t even get truly dark. Does this mean that northern astronomers will be putting all of their gear …

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Funky Hand Controllers

The biggest problems experienced by amateur astronomers, who live in the Yukon and the northern limits of civilization, is the cold. The cold is brutal on the human element, and is capable of wreaking all kinds of havoc on astronomy gear — from poorly made eyepieces and telescope mounts, to laptop computers. One would think …

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Canyon Dreams

Warmer temperatures motivate and promote amateur astronomy in this marvellous northern land in which we live. For example, my favourite in-town observing site is the Miles Canyon Lookout Point. This remarkable observing site is opened by the City of Whitehorse on the first weekend of May, just a few weeks before the sun is up …

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Saturn and the Super Moon

Where were you on Saturday March 19, when the Super Moon occurred? Sounds kind of ominous doesn’t it? So, what is a super moon? As the moon orbits Earth, its path is not a perfect circle, but more elliptical in nature. When the moon is at its closest point to Earth (called the perigee) it …

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Temperatures, Too

With the oncoming of spring, the nights are shorter and temperatures are struggling to rise. The Yukon night skies are also in a state of celestial change. The constellations Leo the Lion and Virgo the Virgin are now clearing the eastern horizon well before midnight. This is a marvellous time for any deep sky observer, …

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Return of the Cosmic Swan

Astronomy as a hobby can be challenging. You are always at the mercy of unpredictable weather, the local wildlife, and, especially, the bugs. Two weeks ago I caught that nasty cold that was going around and was laid up for a few days. One night I was heading to bed around 2:30 in the morning, …

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Showers Forecast for November

It’s going to be a busy season in those amazing Yukon night skies, with the possibility of three more meteor showers taking place in November. My attempt at observing the Orionid meteor shower in October was a wash due to the fact that is was snowing heavily, but there will be more chances to see …

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Star Clusters and Ringed Giants

The month of February offers long, clear, cold nights, and a chance to explore five of the finest star clusters in the Yukon Night Skies. To begin our cosmic journey look high overhead and you will find the constellation of Auriga, the Charioteer. To identify this constellation, locate the brightest star overhead. This will be …

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December Total Lunar Eclipse

We are in for a rare astronomical treat this month. On December 10, early in the morning hours, we are going to experience a total lunar eclipse. This eclipse favours western and northern Canada for a change, and we will be able to see all 51 minutes of totality. To view this eclipse you will …

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So Many Stars, So Little Time

The month of May brings warm weather observing – parka not required – a pleasant change of pace. It still gets frosty, though. Last weekend at the observing site (Grey Mountain Lookout Point) the temperature dropped to minus 6 Celsius. It was supposed to clear off later in the morning hours, so I decided to …

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Astrophotography on a Budget

For many amateur astronomers, the passion for deep space observing ultimately leads them to photography and imaging of the night sky. It is a good thing to come home with pictures of your late night observing sessions, sharing with others what you are actually doing out there all night, as crazy as it might seem …

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Spring’s Rings and Things

This is the busiest time of the year for northern sky watchers. I like to refer to it as the changing of the guard. Winter constellations are sliding lower into the horizon earlier each evening, soon to disappear for another year. The springtime constellations are up nice and high all night for excellent viewing, and …

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High-Tech Christmas on a $100 Budget

As Christmas approaches I am frequently asked, “What do you get for that special someone at Christmas who is interested in astronomy without spending a small fortune?” For the beginner, I recommend the classic 10×50 binoculars and a subscription to Sky News magazine. If you can’t find binoculars in this price range, grab your computer …

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November Night Skies

Winter has arrived and the weather is starting to stabilize. With clear skies and reasonably warm temperatures, it is time to grab your parka and head outside to explore those amazing Yukon night skies. So what is there to see, you ask? Let’s start with the planets. Mercury, the closest planet to the sun, will …

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A Tale of Two Star Parties

For most northern astronomers, summer is either solar observing, or waiting for the return of the autumn night skies. The other option is to head to a star party in the southern part of the country. This year we went to one of our favourite star parties at Mount Kobau, right outside Osoyoos in B.C. …

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Social Media and Sweet Aurora

Valentine’s Day has arrived and according to my online weather forecast, it might actually be clear this evening. A quick check on the aurora forecasts, and they all seem to basically agree: there will be little or no northern lights this evening. Around 9 p.m. my youngest son promptly arrives in the living room to …

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Galaxy Hunting with Binoculars

The new year is well underway and the weather has been a bit unpredictable, to say the least – from warm and cloudy, to a trip straight into the deep freeze. In these conditions, astronomy can become a lesson in futility and frustration. One solution is to get friendly with your binoculars. You can always …

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January’s Cosmic Jewels

Here comes another year with plenty of amazing sights for the cosmic tourist in this great northern land of ice and snow. Now if the weather would cooperate, we would be rocking! January appears to be an action-packed month of viewing, including some old familiar sights. For example, Venus is making a comeback and can …

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Stars

200 Billion Stars and Counting

April is upon us, and even though the weather is warm, and the sky is cloudy. People always ask, “What is an northern astronomer to do on a cloudy night?” The first thing to do is apply the 5-Minute Astronomer Rule”. The 5-Minute Astronomer Rule is having your binoculars or small telescope on the front …

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Thanksgiving For Clear Skies

After a rather busy weekend down at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Center for the Erik’s Main Event consumer electronics show, [what day are we on here?] we were unloading a large truck and as we looked up, there were the northern lights. While there are many avid aurora-watchers in the Yukon, I still find it …

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Fire in the Sky

Astronomy and all its wonders are fascinating regardless of where you are or how much equipment you have. Every year we do the family holiday down in southern British Columbia visiting family and friends. This is a prime opportunity to see a very different night sky, especially when looking towards the southern horizon. Even as …

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Dance of the Planets

The Yukon night skies have been alive with planets playing tag with the moon. The last couple of weeks have presented a planetary show, including Mars, Venus and Jupiter in the evening hours, and Saturn in the early morning hours before sunrise. So let’s start with the brightest planet, Venus, which is at its greatest …

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From Down Under to Northern Night Sky Wonders

For most astronomers there is always the memory of that first, jaw-dropping, eye-popping, “I don’t believe this is real” experience at the eyepiece of a telescope. You even get the chance to hear the occasional, “Holy Smokes!” every once in a while at a star party, or a Saturday night at the local observing site. …

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Springtime Galactic Encounters

With springtime soon to arrive, Yukon astronomers are gearing up for the event of the year: galaxy hunting season. Unlike game hunting, you don’t need tags, and there is no limit. All you need is a clear dark sky and a pair of binoculars mounted on a tripod, or a telescope. Much like paycheques and …

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Gearing Up for Christmas

With Christmas soon arriving I am usually bombarded with emails enquiring, what is the best gift this season for a budding Yukon amateur astronomer? The first suggestion would be to recommend a subscription to Sky News Magazine. This magazine can be purchased at the local book store. Full of helpful star charts and easy-to-understand descriptions, …

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Starfest 2010, Summer Star Parties and The Solar Express

Summertime is here, and it is going to be a rip-snorting good time, astronomically speaking, that is. Let’s get started with holidays and star parties. If you heading out of the territories for the summer, take a few minutes before you leave, and check out the star parties in a Sky News Magazineor on the …

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