Photo of the Week. A magnificent new picture of Taurus's Pleiades (the blue "Seven Sisters") beautifully reveals
myriad fainter stars and the soft surrounding dust cloud through
which the cluster is passing. See it at full
resolution. Courtesy of Mark Killion.
Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, December 8, 2006.
The Moon starts us off in its
waning gibbous phase as it heads toward its third quarter on
the morning of Tuesday, December 12, in daylight while descending
western skies. During the remainder of the week it will wane in
crescent phase. The night of Saturday the 9th, the waning
gibbous will rise in Leo just above
(to the west of) Saturn, with the Moon, Saturn, and
Leo's Regulus all in a fine row.
By dawn the morning of Sunday the 10th, the Moon will have moved
due north of the planet. Keep distance in perspective, however,
the Moon a quarter million miles away, Saturn over 800 million. By
the time of Moonrise the night of the Sunday the 10th, the three
will still be in a line, but the Moon will have shifted to the
other side of Regulus and will rise last. A day after last
quarter, the Moon will pass perigee, where it is closest to the Earth. The morning
Friday the 15th, the Moon will have made it into Virgo, and will pass south of Spica.
descends the early morning sky, Mars and Jupiter advance
upward. A clear eastern dawn horizon and binoculars will show the
three all bunched together early in the week, the trio rising about
6 AM. On the morning of Sunday the 10th, Mercury will pass just a
tenth of a degree north of Jupiter, while the next day, Jupiter and
Mars come together, Jupiter to the north of the red planet.
Jupiter is by far the brightest, Mercury next, Mars the faintest of
the three. While Mercury sinks out of sight, the other two will
climb higher in dawn, with Jupiter leading. Back into evening,
Saturn is making a serious impact by rising a little after 9:30,
retrograde to the west of Regulus. Venus will not be
visible until the end of the month.
meteor shower (the meteors seeming to come out of Gemini) makes an appearance this
week The shower spans roughly December 7 to 17, and peaks the
morning of Thursday the 14th. The shower -- the debris of Comet
(once thought asteroid) Phaeton --
typically delivers over one meteor a minute in a dark sky, which we
will not have, the Moon washing out the numerous fainter
Passing high in the sky in early evening for northerners is Cassiopeia, the famed "W" outlining
the throne of the ancient Queen. In almost the same relative
position, those in the temperate southern hemisphere see the
modern, dimmer, exotic constellation of Tucana, the celestial Toucan. To the east of it lies
Hydrus, the Water Snake, while to
the west one finds another bird, Pavo, the Peacock.