Celestial events in the skies for the week of Dec. 27, 2016-Jan. 2, 2017, as compiled for The Loafer by Mark D. Marquette.
The transition week between years 2016 and 2017 has the Moon starting a New phase with Venus dominating the evening horizon and Jupiter high in the pre-dawn sky. Mars is distinctly red to the left of Venus, and to the left of Mars and invisible to the unaided eye is eighth planet, Neptune.
Tues. Dec. 27
A tip on that new telescope: It is important to understand during the daytime all the motions the telescope can go through so you are familiar with them in the night. A red flashlight, made with cellophane if need be, is essential to see the telescope focusing assembly and read star charts and a Moon map.
Wed. Dec. 28
As you wander outside to catch your thoughts on this whirlwind week between Christmas and New Year’s, Venus will catch your eye until it sets just after 8:30 pm. When low to the horizon against bare trees and lit buildings, Venus looks like an airplane landing—and it’s often reported as a UFO!
Thurs. Dec. 29
New Moon is today at 1:53 am, our natural satellite being above the Sun and invisible in the daytime sky. It’s a challenge to see soon you can see the thin crescent in the west after sunset. It’s extremely hard the first day after New Moon, but easier to see the 2-day-old Moon. So Saturday will be a challenge, but you’ll see the crescent easily this Sunday evening.
Fri. Dec. 30
There are plenty of early morning risers delivering newspapers and heading to bakeries, convenience stores and health care facilities. And you might notice a really bright star high above the east horizon. That’s the planet Jupiter, fourth brightest object behind the Sun, Moon and Venus. At 4 am Jupiter is directly east with bright, white star Spica in Virgo, while bright orange star Arcturus is to the far left of the pair.
Sat. Dec. 31
The last night of 2016 has Venus on the border of Capricornus the Sea Goat, and tomorrow night it will be inside the boundaries of Aquarius. Those invisible lines in the sky are help astronomers map out stellar objects and are completely arbitrary.
Sun. Jan. 1
On this 1801 date in astronomy history, Giuseppe Piazzi celebrated the first night of the 19th Century by discovering the dwarf planet Ceres, the largest body among thousands in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
Mon. Jan. 2
On this 1959 date, and for the first time in history, humans aimed to shoot the Moon! A Soviet Union rocket and small space probe, Luna 1, was launched to hit its target, 240,000 miles away. Three days later Luna 1 missed, and is long dead, but still orbiting the Sun.