Celestial events in the skies for the week of Jan. 17-23, 2017 as compiled for The Loafer by Mark D. Marquette.
The early evening sky has brilliant planet Venus and much fainter, red Mars continually moving toward each other at the border of Aquarius and Pisces. Meanwhile for early morning risers, bright yellow Jupiter and pearly white star Spica make a beautiful contrast, and the crescent Moon will be beside this pair before sunrise Thursday morning.
Tues. Jan. 17
Looking east after 7 pm you immediately see several bright stars, include the brightest, Sirius, above the horizon. Sirius makes a “Winter Triangle” with white Procyon high to the left and red Betelgeuse to the right. Sirius and Procyon are in the Big and Little Dog, respectively, and Betelgeuse is the shoulder of Orion the Hunter.
Wed. Jan. 18
Where’s the Moon? Well it is in the after-midnight sky and Thursday morning it makes a spectacular close flyby of Jupiter and Spica in Virgo. Every day the Moon moves 12.5 degrees eastward, which is about the distance between your thumb and pinky finger spread out at arm’s length.
Thurs. Jan. 19
On this 2006 date in space history, NASA launched the New Horizons space probe to Pluto, which was listed as the 9th planet at the time. Now demoted to a “dwarf planet,” Pluto and its five moons was visited by New Horizons July 14, 2015. The American space probe discovered an active Pluto, both geologically and atmospherically, at -300 F. below zero—which has stunned planetary scientists.
Fri. Jan. 20
Happy 87th birthday to Apollo 11 moonwalker Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, who landed on the first historic Moon landing with commander Neil Armstrong, deceased. Aldrin is the astronaut standing in the small crater on the Moon in the iconic image that has Armstrong and their moonship reflected in the helmet faceplate. Buzz has been very active the past few years promoting human exploration of Mars on Twitter—and his tweets are fun to follow!
Sat. Jan. 21
The crescent Moon rises at 4 am in the pre-dawn skies in Libra the Scales, right between two stars that are fun to say: Zubeneschamali and Zubenelgenubi. Once part of Scorpius below, they are tongue-twisting Arabic words for left and right claws.
Sun. Jan. 22
On this 1978 date in space history, the resupply ship Progress 1 docked with the Salyut 6 space station, the first time a cargo ship was used in space exploration. In 1992, Orbiter Discovery was launched with seven astronauts. They worked for 8 days in the Spacelab module in the cargo bay, mostly on effects of microgravity on a variety of organisms. And on this date in 1998, Endeavour blasted off on the eighth of nine Shuttle missions to Russia’s Mir space station and the fifth exchange of American astronauts. Seven crewmen were launched with Andrew Thomas, and he was left as Dave Wolf returned after four months on Mir.
Mon. Jan. 23
Keeping attention to the pre-dawn sky for those early risers (or third-shifters headed home) the planet Saturn and the thin crescent Moon team up in the borders of the constellation Ophiuchus the Serpent Handler. This unofficial 13th constellation of the Zodiac is between Scorpius and Sagittarius.
Photo: Buzz Aldrin