Weekly Stargazing Calendar for 2010-12-20

This week there will be a lunar eclipse. It will be best visible in North America at around 1-4 a.m. eastern time on December 21. Unlike solar eclipses, a lunar eclipse is very slow. Below is a mosaic of all the stages of the eclipse, as well as a larger image of the most spectacular part when the Moon has a red-orange glow. Both images are from the 2004 lunar eclipse, but you can expect photos of this year’s eclipse shortly.

Lunar eclipse mosaicA Lunar Eclipse Mosaic
Credit & Copyright: Anthony Ayiomamitis

Lunar eclipseRed Moon Triple
Credit & Copyright: Fred Espenak

Another astronomical event that will occur on the same day is the winter solstice. The exact time of the solstice is December 21, 23:38 UT. The Sun will be at its lowest point in the sky and it will be the shortest day of the year. This event marks the beginning of winter.

As for the planets, here are their positions for this week:

Mercury and Mars: Mercury has moved away from Mars considerably since last week, but the two planets still appear quite close to each other and with Pluto they form an elongated triangle in the constellation of Sagittarius (unfortunately you will not be able to see the dwarf planet unless you have a very strong telescope).

Venus: The sister planet can be seen close to the constellation of Libra. Just like Mercury, it can only be seen at dawn and dusk.

Jupiter and Uranus: The two gas giants are still visible close to each other between the constellations of Aquarius, Pisces and Cetus. Jupiter can easily be spotted with the naked eye, even in highly illuminated cities. However for Uranus you will need a telescope.

Saturn: The ringed giant can be seen with the naked eye in the middle of the Virgo constellation, not far from the bright star Spica.

Neptune: The blue giant requires a telescope pointed between the constellations of Aquarius and Capricornus in order to be seen.

As you know, the Moon has a big impact on the visibility of celestial bodies in the night sky. So here are the Moon’s phases for this week:

Dec. 20

Dec. 21

Dec. 22

Dec. 23

Dec. 24

Dec. 25

Dec. 26