Celestial events in the skies for the week of Dec. 6-12, 2016, as compiled for The Loafer by Mark D. Marquette.
The Moon takes center stage again in our evening skies, it and brilliant Venus guiding home those workers driving south or west. Mars is to the left of Venus, a former shell of its brilliant garnet color of the Summer. When darkness grips our land by 6 pm, The Pleiades are high in the east and Pegasus the Horse flies overhead. This week also remembers the last manned, American voyage to the Moon by Apollo 17.
Tues. Dec. 6
Mercury peaks above the western horizon during this week, but it’ll be seen for a half hour or so in the twilight. Stringing above the horizon are brilliant Venus and much fainter, red Mars.
Wed. Dec. 7
First Quarter Moon is today, between Aquarius and Pisces. A beautiful scene among the bare trees of late Autumn, there is plenty of detail to see with just binoculars.
Thurs. Dec. 8
There is a big difference in the southern skies from 6 pm when the dull and faint stars of Capricornus and Pisces are replaced at midnight by Taurus the Bull, Orion the Hunter, and the brightest star in the sky, Sirius.
Fri. Dec. 9
On this 2006 date in space history, Space Shuttle Discovery was launched on a mission 12-day “hard hat” mission with six astronauts joining the three aboard the International Space Station. Check out the SmartPhone apps or on the Internet for times when the ISS flies overhead—usually one week a month in the evening and one week in the morning twilight.
Sat. Dec. 10
Saturn is in “conjunction” with the Sun, astronomers-speak for and object directly behind our star, either above or below and too bright to be seen. The ringed-world will move into the morning sky and be visible above the pre-dawn horizon in a couple of weeks.
Sun. Dec. 11
On this 1972 date in space history, Apollo 17 lands on the Moon in the Taurus-Littrow highlands, the last time humans have set foot on an alien world. Commander Gene Cernan and astronaut-geologist Harrison Schmitt spent three days on the surface and drove 21 miles on their Lunar Rover exploring. Cernan became a corporate leader in the rocket industry, and Schmitt served one term as US Senator from his native New Mexico and advocates returning to the Moon to mine its energy source of oxygen three.
Mon. Dec. 12
Are you getting through the cold thinking of summertime memories? Well there are still signs of summer lingering in the western skies as two of the three stars of the Summer Triangle are still hanging in there. Altair, to the left, and much brighter Vega, right, are visible in the 6 pm twilight, and set around 8:30 pm. Vega in Lyra the Harp is almost circumpolar—visible all night—and will be the North Star in about 10,000 years.