Celestial events in the skies for the week of Dec. 5 – 11, 2017 as compiled for The Loafer by Mark D. Marquette.
With more than thirteen hours of darkness and the Moon rising after midnight to its Last Quarter on Monday, it’s time for some evening stargazing! The Moon in the predawn sky is a reminder of the last lunar voyage 45 years ago when Apollo 17 made the journey. The evening is absent of any planets as Saturn and Venus are in the solar glare, while Mars and Jupiter are in the predawn hours. Winter constellations are hurtling over the eastern horizon lead by Taurus and Orion.
Tuesday, December 5
In 2001, Endeavour was rocketed into orbit three years after connecting the first modules of the International Space Station. This time seven astronauts on the Shuttle had in its cargo bay the Italian module Raffaello being ferried up with supplies to the half-complete ISS. Raffaello was stowed in the Shuttle and brought back with used equipment, experiments and garbage.
Wednesday, December 6
If you could “turn off” the Sun in the day you’d see it in the constellation Ophiuchus the Serpent Handler, between Scorpius and Sagittarius. The Sun won’t move into Sagittarius until Dec. 18. The ancient astrologers didn’t want 13 constellations in the Zodiac—an unlucky number if you believed superstitions.
Thursday, December 7
Part of the confusion in your “fake news” Zodiac sign and dates is how the calendar has been manipulated the past 2,000 years. Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 threw out the September days of 2-13 to align to align the Julian Calendar of Caesar in line with a spring Easter. We live by that Gregorian Calendar today.
Friday, December 8
Early morning risers will see bright and gold Jupiter below a dimmer but still bright red star, Mars. The pair are high in the sky by 4 am, and get close in a conjunction Christmas week between Virgo and Libra.
Saturday, December 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.
Sunday, December 10
All week the Great Square of Pegasus is overhead at dark—which is 6 pm—and begins setting as Orion the Hunter rises in the east. There is a big difference in the southern skies from 6 pm when the dull and faint stars of Capricornus and Pisces are replaced by dazzling Taurus the Bull and Orion the Hunter.
Monday, December 11
Last Quarter Moon today. 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.