Celestial events in the skies for the week of Dec. 12 – 18, 2017 as compiled for The Loafer by Mark D. Marquette.
How are you doing with just 10 hours of sunshine a day—assuming it’s not cloudy? We are in the stretch of the earliest sunsets—around 5:15 pm! —and with sunrise around 7:30 am, that leaves us in the dark most of the time. Next week is the Winter Solstice, the longest night and shortest day, and things will be picking up by the new year of 2018. This week you might see meteors from the reliable Geminid Meteor Shower, which peaks Thursday morning and worth losing sleep over.
Tuesday, December 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.
Wednesday, December 13
Tonight, into tomorrow morning is the peak of the Geminid Meteor Shower, one of the most reliable of the year with up to 100 meteors an hour peaking before dawn. The Moon is a crescent near new phase, ideal for seeing plenty of “shooting stars.”.
Thursday, December 14
In 1972, this was blast off day from the Moon for Apollo 17, which linked up to its command module piloted by astronaut Ron Evans. Their booty was about 250 pounds of rock and soil from the Moon.
Friday, December 15
The north constellations are highlighted by Cassiopeia the Queen, whose five brightest stars now look like an “M” branded in the sky. There are several wonderful clusters of stars in this constellation, easy targets for binoculars.
Saturday, December 16
The first stars of the special string of celestial lights in the southwest will probably be zero magnitude Vega, the brightest and to the far right. Next to poke through the violets of twilight will be first magnitude Altair, to Vega’s left. Both stars are very white, their light violently twinkling in the refraction of our atmosphere. First magnitude Fomalhaut to the far left is going to be visible before Mars because it is farthest from the sunlight of twilight. Accentuated by the unmistakable reddish glow of first magnitude Mars, this string of lights is a good gift for our curious minds.
Sunday, December 17
Most “baby-boomers” would come close to guessing the date of the historic Apollo 11 moon landing in July (20), 1969, but who can correctly guess the first powered flight through the air? On this 1903 date in history on a beach at Kitty Hawk, NC, Orville Wright flew the airplane he and his brother Wilbur built in Dayton, Ohio.
Monday, December 18
New Moon, our natural satellite invisible in the daytime sky below the Sun. Early morning risers get to see brilliant planet Jupiter above the horizon, and above it are reddish Mars and white star Spica in Virgo the Virgin. These pair will dazzle our evening Spring skies.