Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, December 26, 2008.
Happy New Year to all, as 2008 turns into 2009.
The end of the year is celebrated by dark skies, as the Moon is lost within its new phase on
Saturday, December 27, after which it will grow the rest of the
week as a waxing crescent, first quarter not reached until Sunday,
January 4. The night of Sunday the 28th offers the first view of
the slim crescent in western twilight and
the beginning of several nights of charming sights.
Sunday night the Moon will lie beneath Jupiter, with Mercury in between,
allowing easy discovery of the innermost planet (but use
binoculars). The following evenings (again in twilight), those of
Monday the 29th and Tuesday the 30th, find the Moon now well up and
progressively to the left of Jupiter and in between it and Venus. The
highlight then comes right at the end of the year, New Year's Eve,
when the Moon will be seen only three degrees to the north of
Venus, the two making a classic pairing. Earlier in the day, the
Moon invisibly passes north of Neptune as well.
The last day of November, Jupiter, on the way down, passed Venus on
the way up. Now it's Mercury's turn. As Jupiter gets ever lower
as seen on successive twilight nights, Mercury, which is climbing
toward greatest eastern elongation next week, will pass it to the
south by just over a degree the night of Tuesday the 30th (a good
horizon required). Venus, now well separated from Jupiter, goes
her own way, at the end of the year not setting until 8:30 PM. On
Friday the 26th, the brilliant planet passes 1.5 degrees south of
Two hours after Venus sets, Saturn lofts itself
above the eastern horizon still (barely) within the confines of
southeastern Leo. With Saturn
rising ever earlier and Venus setting ever later, the two will give
us a repeat performance of the Venus-Jupiter conjunction when Venus
meets Saturn later in January. As a fine start to the new year,
retrograde motion on New Year's Day, which will keep the ringed
planet from crossing the boundary into Virgo until next September.
By late evening, Orion is now
crossing the meridian to the south.
Over his head Auriga, the
Charioteer, rolls on, carrying Capella, the third brightest star in
the northern hemisphere. Following well behind it, the Big Dipper of Ursa Major climbs the northeastern sky. In between the
two, see if you can locate the faint stream of stars that makes the
modern constellation Lynx, whose
name needs no translation.