Categories: Sky Reports
During the next two weeks something dramatic happens in the sky: Venus, which has been the reliable and brilliant “Evening Star”, disappears. The four diagrams posted last week show what you’ll see. Each night Venus is significantly lower at the same time than the night before and it sets earlier. On the 13th it’s conspicuous in the southwest in evening twilight; on the 20th it’s a bit lower at the same time; on the 27th it’s a lot lower, and by January 3rd it’s gone. Begin watching this week and check it every night or two. There is motion and change in the sky and you can see it if you have a bit of patience. As a friend said, “every night is a new show, and we have front row seats”.
What’s happening is that Venus’ orbit lies inside ours, and Venus is presently catching up to and passing the earth. When Venus is to the left of the sun, as it is now, it’s approaching us, and when to the right of the sun, as it will be in January, it’s moving away. Stand looking at Venus, imagine where the sun is (below the horizon) and visualize Venus moving on a circular orbit from left to right, toward us, past us, and then away.
At the same time its phase, as seen through almost any telescope, decreases, as it moves more nearly in line with the sun. It’s a thin crescent becoming thinner by the night. Find a friend with a telescope and beg a look.
Jupiter and Saturn remain where they have been, except that the earth’s motion around the sun causes them to set a half-hour earlier each week, so they’ll slowly slip behind the sun next month.
The year’s best meteor shower – the Geminids – peaks on Tuesday morning, the 14th. The best strategy is to set your alarm for moonset, about 3 a.m., when the sky becomes dark, bundle up warmer than you think you’ll need to, find a place with a wide view of the sky, and look up. Meteors will appear to radiate from nearly overhead but will appear all over the sky. The shower actually lasts more than a week but bright moonlight will be a huge problem until moonset. Under ideal conditions you might see one meteor a minute. Uncle Google will give details: search for “Geminid meteors”.
Comet Leonard, discovered only last January, is presently passing the earth and sun, and it will be at its best this week; then it leaves our solar system, fading quickly and never to return. If it survives the next few days, and that is far from certain, it should be visible in binoculars and small telescopes below Venus in the early evening sky. Look beginning Tuesday the 14th. It will be close to Venus on the 17th and 18th. You’ll need a very low southwestern horizon and transparent air that’s free from dust and haze; be looking an hour after sunset. Hope to see a small fuzzy ball, likely not round, but the sky may will probably be too bright to see the comet’s tail.
For more information Google “Comet Leonard”. The best source of information and maps that I’ve found is: https://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/comet-leonard-might-become-2021s-brightest-2022/
Under a grant from the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development and the Kane County Office of Tourism, Stellar Vista Observatory offers portable telescopes and tripod mounted binocular kits on loan for free to all residents of Kane County. Nothing beats a quality binocular or astronomical telescope to enhance enjoyment of the night sky! Visit https://stellarvistaobservatory.org/discover-the-night-sky/ or Kanab City Library for full details.
The Sky Report is presented as a public service by the Stellar Vista Observatory, a nonprofit organization based in Kanab, Utah, which provides opportunities for people to observe, appreciate, and comprehend our starry night sky. Additional information is at www.stellarvistaobservatory.org. Send questions and comments to John@StargazingAdventures.org.