Photo of the Week.. Reflection from a lake doubles
the beauty of the sky. Photo by Katrina Bromann.
Astronomy news for the short week starting Friday, December 27,
Happy New Year and Clear Skies to all.
Having passed its third quarter on Thursday, December 26, the Moon
wanes through its crescent phase,
reaching the new phase on Thursday, January 2, when it will appear
gone from the skies, giving us a new
Moon almost at the beginning of the year. Since the Moon's phase cycle, at 29.5 days, is a bit short of a month, the
date of the new Moon will slowly slip earlier (though short
February rather gets in the way), until next May, which will see
two new Moons (the reverse of the so-called "blue Moon," when there
are two full Moons in a month).
The waning crescent will make a nice pass only two degrees to the
south of Venus the morning of Monday the 30th. Look
for much fainter Mars somewhat to the west. By then the Moon
will have passed to the north of the red planet, and will actually
have occulted (passed in from of) it, the event visible only in the
northern portions of the eastern hemisphere. At almost the same
time the Moon is crossing in front of Mars, our lunar companion
reaches its perigee point where it is closest to the Earth.
As a pair, Saturn and Jupiter are now near their most magnificent,
Saturn rising shortly before sunset, Jupiter rising after sunset (around 7:30 PM), the two
visible practically all night. As the year comes to a close,
Saturn is just to the north of Zeta
Tauri, which represents the southern horn of the celestial Bull, and immediately to the east
of the famed Crab
Nebula, a telescopic ball of gas that is the expanding remnant
of the Supernova (exploding star) of the year 1054. The current
view of Saturn in a telescope is outstanding, the rings wide open
for observation, the planet passing about as close to overhead as
possible for mid-northern latitudes. Much brighter Jupiter is two
zodiacal constellations to the east, moving retrograde (as is
Saturn) and in far eastern Cancer
to the east of the Beehive Cluster.
Great Orion, which appears
directly south around 11 PM (for those in the northern hemisphere),
draws attention away from other winter constellations, some
brilliant, others dim. Almost directly north of Orion, on a line
through Saturn, lies bright Auriga, the Charioteer, whose luminary, Capella, is the sixth brightest star
in the sky. In contrast, above (and on the average a bit east of)
Auriga, is a much dimmer modern constellation, Camelopardalis, the Giraffe. New Moon is the time to
see its dim stars. Follow the line farther north and you come to
the pole, well marked by Polaris,
the North Star, a perfect representative of the north country and
of the northern winter.