Dec 01

December 2006

Whats Up in the Sky December, 2006

Fellowship of Astronomers

My attempt to view the transit of Mercury on Nov. 8 turned into a typical observing fiasco. The day started out clear, but by 3:00 p.m. clouds had moved in, leaving those of us gathered on Hopes campus for the public viewing looking through our solar telescopes at nothing. All we wanted was a glimpse through a break in the clouds but no such luck.

So we packed up and departed and as soon as I pulled into my driveway (four blocks away) it was sunny! Unable to regroup, I set up and watched the transit by myself (my next door neighbor had a look but left to hunt for his dog) until finally I had to drag my wife out of the house so I would have someone with whom to share what I considered to be an extremely memorable event.

Thats happened before, in 1998, when I took her to Aruba to watch a total eclipse of the sun with a couple hundred other folks. In fact, almost all of my best observations have been in the company of others. I’ve seen a meteor shower with a group of math and science teachers and a lunar eclipse with my softball team. Friends and I have shared views of comets, aurora, transits, and occultations. I’ve risen before dawn to observe with students and stayed up all night to observe with astronomy club friends.

In April, 1979, while driving to a party at a friends house in Allegan, I watched the crescent moon approach the bright star Aldebaran. Upon arrival, I told everyone to come out and see this extraordinary event – a bright star covered by the unlit side of a crescent moon! One person joined me. The others missed the significance of how rare an opportunity this was – I have never seen another occultation anywhere near as spectacular. I’m sure my lone companion remembers that night as vividly as I do.

If you have an interest in astronomy, but don’t know how to pursue it, consider our local astronomy club, the Shoreline Amateur Astronomers. We offer camaraderie, resources of information, and the opportunity to observe in a safe, dark location. It’s more fun and more interesting when you can get together with friends to enjoy whats up in the sky.

This month in history:

Dec. 4: Mars Pathfinder launched – 1996
Dec. 14: Gene Cernan, Apollo 17 astronaut, becomes last person to walk on Moon – 1972
Dec. 15: Venera 7 becomes first spacecraft to land on Venus – 1970
Dec. 24: Apollo 8 sends Seasons’ greetings from lunar orbit – 1968
Dec. 25: Isaac Newton born – 1642
Dec. 27: Johannes Kepler born – 1571

Here are this months viewing highlights:

Planets this month: Saturn is high in the southwest before dawn. Binoculars will help you see Jupiter, Mars and Mercury near the SE horizon 40 min. before sunrise. Don’t miss close gathering on the 10th and 11th.
Dec. 4: Full Moon
Dec. 10: Jupiter, Mars, and Mercury very close together in SE 40 min. before dawn.
Dec. 12: Last-quarter Moon.
Dec. 13-14: Geminid meteors peak.
Dec. 20: New Moon.
Dec. 21: Winter solstice – first day of winter.
Dec. 27: First quarter Moon.

Peter Burkey – SAAA President