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Comet Tuttle

by William J. Bechaver

HUERFANO- There are three objects in the sky to keep your eye on this week.

    The first, and most spectacular is the planet Mars. It rises in the east, just as the sun is setting, travels completely and high across the sky during the night, and sets in the west, just as the sun is rising. That’s due to the fact that this week, Mars is directly opposite the sun when viewed from earth, a position astronomers refer to as "opposition." It’s a vivid, unmistakable ruby in the night sky, shining with the constant sheen of reflected sunlight.

    The second object to be aware of is the moon. On the night of Dec. 23, it will be full, which means it is also in "opposition." This culmination of the two events means that the moon and Mars will appear extremely close together on that night.  From here, they will be less than a hair-breadth apart. If you happen to be in the Pacific Northwest, western Canada, or Alaska that night, the moon will actually pass directly in front of the planet, completely blocking it from view for a time, a kind of mini-eclipse, or "occultation."  This grouping should to be spectacular regardless of your vantage point.

    The third object is another visitor to our part of the solar system, yet another comet. I had such positive feedback last time, from those amateur sky-watchers in Colorado City to our faithful followers in Cuchara, that I thought I’d better mention this one.

    This time around, it’s Comet Tuttle, and strangely enough, it appears in the northern sky not far from where we saw Holmes pass just a few weeks ago. This one is a greater challenge to spot, requiring binoculars to do so, but its location on the night of Dec. 22 will make it easier to focus in on with a little assistance.

    Once again, the key is finding Cassiopeia, that crazy W in the sky. Once again, it looks like a 3 to us, since it’s sideways. Now, it’s simply a matter of locating the middle star in the constellation. The comet will be very near that star on Dec. 22.  Find it in your binoculars