Celestial events in the skies for the week of Jan. 3-9, 2017, as compiled for The Loafer by Mark D. Marquette.
While sun catchers hanging in our south-facing windows toss the rainbow of photons around the walls of our cozy homes, the days might be cold, but they are getting longer. The Sun is at its lowest point south of the year, the acute angle filtering sunlight into our rooms. But day-by-day, the Sun’s arc across the daytime sky is getting higher—adding about a 30 seconds a day to our daylight. But there’s still more than 13 hours of nighttime, which pleases stargazers exploring the glorious winter sky.
Tues. Jan. 3
A celestial spectacle at sunset with red Mars located between the waxing Moon and brilliant Venus, all happening in Aquarius. On this 2004 date in space history, NASA’s Mars Excursion Rover named Spirit successfully landed on the Red Planet, beginning a six-year exploration of the surface. Succumbing to battery failure in its sixth year after getting stuck in a hole, Spirit was guaranteed to last 90 days! The rover’s twin, Opportunity, landed a few weeks later but is still alive and well—and ready to celebrate its 13th birthday on Jan. 25th. Talk about NASA giving taxpayers their money’s worth!
Wed. Jan. 4
The Moon travels across the southern border of Pisces the Fishes, and actually crosses a piece of Cetus the Whale, which is not a zodiacal constellation. Just one of the celestial quirks of our night sky!
Thurs. Jan. 5
First Quarter Moon is in Pisces. On this 2005 date in space history, astronomers discovered an object larger than Pluto and nearly twice as far. Named Eris, it and a half-dozen other objects near the size of Pluto sparked the debate that demoted the planet to “dwarf planet” status, joining Eris, former asteroid Ceres and others in the new classification.
Fri. Jan. 6
The Moon again slices through a piece of Cetus as it moves into the indistinct constellation Aries the Ram. The Moon moves its own diameter (one-half degree) eastward each hour and 12.5 degrees a day, about the width of your outstretched hand from thumb to pinky.
Sat. Jan. 7
On this 1610 date in space history, the great Italian scientist Galileo turned his new telescope to the planet Jupiter and discovered three of its four giant moons. The discovery convinced Galileo that the Earth orbited the Sun and our Moon orbited Earth—which was not accepted knowledge 400 years ago. A few nights later, Galileo saw a fourth Jupiter moon, Ganymeade, joining Io, Callisto and Europa. All four moons, and the cloud bands of Jupiter, are easily seen in any backyard telescope.
Sun. Jan. 8
Happy Birthday 75th birthday Stephen Hawking, the world’s premier physicists, and one of the longest survivors of ALS. Confined to a wheel chair for decades, Hawking has a brilliant mind that has pioneered modern day physics, which he popularized in his best-selling book “A Brief History of Time.”
Mon. Jan. 9
On this 1968 date in space history, unmanned Surveyor 7 lands on the Moon near the young crater Tycho, whose rays are visible during Full Moon. The famous crater was considered for an Apollo 20 landing site, which was cancelled. Also on this date in 1990, Space Shuttle Columbia was launched on a busy, 12-day mission included retrieval of Long Duration Exposure Facility, deployment of two communications satellites and another half-dozen experiments conducted by the crew of five.