Celestial events in the skies for the week of Dec. 19 – 25, 2017 as compiled for The Loafer by Mark D. Marquette.
The late night finds Orion the Hunter beginning his dominance of the celestial realm with his canine companions Canis Major and Minor. And the crescent Moon will be waxing in the early evening hustle and bustle of the Christmas season. Behold the beauty of the Universe as you safely celebrate the holidays.
Tuesday, December 19
For that two brief hours of deep twilight and early evening, the Milky Way is visible standing straight up in the west between Vega, in Lyra the Harp, and Altair, in Aquila the Eagle. It an interesting part of the sky as seen through any binoculars.
Wednesday, December 20
On this 1978 date in space history, the Soviet Union’s Venera 12 spacecraft landed on Venus. The lens caps on both cameras failed to come off, a design flaw, so there were no photos. But other data on the atmosphere, soil composition and electrical energy were successfully transmitted for almost two hours before the vehicle failed under the crushing atmosphere and 900 F. degree surface temperature.
Thursday, December 21
Winter Solstice at 11:20 am when the Sun stands over the Tropic of Capricorn. On this 1968 date in space history, the world was excited as the world’s most powerful rocket, Saturn V, blasted off Cape Kennedy, Florida with Apollo 8 atop and three astronauts bound for an orbital mission to the Moon, 240,000 miles away.
Friday, December 22
While this is the first full day of Winter, don’t forget our friends “down under” in Australia, Africa and South America are enjoying their first day of Summer. The difference is Earth’s Southern Hemisphere is tilted 24.5 degrees toward the Sun making the solar rays more direct and hotter. Our northern half is tilted away, and the sunlight is slanted more and not as warm.
Saturday, December 23
The night sky can be a sanctuary of structure and sanity from the craziness of holiday shopping. Taurus, Auriga, Orion and Gemini are rising in the east, adding some brilliant “bling” in the sky. And the morning sky has brilliant Jupiter, fainter Mars and the star Spica, all rising before the Sun in the constellation Virgo.
Sunday, December 24
On this 1978 date in space history, the Soviet Union landed Venera 11 on Venus. Its twin spacecraft Venera 12 landed Dec. 20, and both transmitted lots of data for a few hours. But a faulty design on a lens cap for the spacecraft cameras left them stuck and no photos could be taken. Recent NASA landers on Mars had clear lens covers in case they didn’t pop off.
Monday, December 25
Christmas Day. Born on this day in 1642 is one of the world’s quintessential geniuses, Isaac Newton. Two little known facts about Newton, he pursued alchemy in the quest to make gold, and was a scholar of the Bible. First Quarter Moon will be Tuesday, Dec. 26.