The manager of SF College’s Kika Silva Pla Planetarium is encouraging star gazers to be on the lookout for two celestial happenings this week.
“Get outside right after sunset on Dec. 28 to see the pairing of Venus and Mercury and then just before sunrise on New Year’s Eve, Dec. 31, to see the triangle formed by Mars, the Moon and Antares,” said James Albury, who also hosts his own show “The Sky Above Us” and is the former co-host of the PBS television program Star Gazer, on his video released Dec. 22.
According to Albury, on the evening of Dec. 28, about 45 minutes after sunset and facing west-southwest, you’ll see Venus because of its steady glow.
The planet is poised to pass between Earth and the sun, he said and then “Venus will disappear into the sun’s glare soon. This will be the last chance to see Venus until mid-December of 2022.”
The other celestial event involves Mercury.
“If you’ve never spotted Mercury in the sky, here’s your golden opportunity to find it,” Albury said. “It’s the smallest planet and it reflects the sun’s light with a pink glow.
“Mercury is on it’s way into the evening sky, but it won’t be here for long. In less than a month, it will be back in the morning sky to join Venus.”
The red planet of Mars arrives on New Year’s Eve, Dec. 31, an hour before sunrise at about 6:30 a.m.
Moon watchers should face southeast for a treat.
“A slender 27-day old waning crescent moon will be in a close pairing with Mars and its celestial rival, Antares,” Albury said.
Antares marks the heart of Scorpius the Scorpion and it means that Antares is the “rival” of Mars because, “when they are near each other in the sky, it’s tough to tell the two apart because of their red color and relative brightness,” Albury said.
But here is a trick.
“Planets don’t twinkle, but stars do,” Albury said. “Planet light is bright and steady.”
Albury said that Antares is a red supergiant nearing the end of its life and is one of the largest stars in the galaxy.
And did you know that Mars is red because rocks on its surface contain iron that has rusted giving it a red color?
“At 6:30 a.m. on Dec. 31st, the Moon, Mars and Antares will form a triangle that will gradually change shape the further west you are,” Albury said.
And there is a bonus he calls “earthshine” which is “where you can see the ‘man in the moon’ pattern faintly in the darkness on the moon.”
Another way of putting it: The new moon in the old moon’s arms. Albury said this is caused by sunlight reflecting off Earth and lighting up the nighttime side of the Moon.
“It’s great for budding astro photogs,” he said.
Follow Albury’s show at TheSkyAboveUs.org where you can view previous and future announcements and explanations of celestial events.