Skywatch: Look for the hunter, Venus and the first full moon of 2017
As you look into the night sky this week you may notice one of the most famous constellations in the world looking down on you. Actually it’ll be around all month.
Orion was a hunter in Greek mythology. In one tale he supposedly claimed he could kill any beast on Earth. In response to his hubris, he was stung by a lowly scorpion and died.
As a result, the gods placed the two in opposite skies which explains why Orion is a winter constellation and Scorpius is a summer one. This constellation is easy to spot, just look for the three stars that make up Orion’s belt.
On Wednesday night look for the first full moon of 2017. It will officially be full at 6:34 a.m. on Jan. 12, which is Thursday morning. As a result, it’ll still shine big and bright both nights.
This moon is known as the Full Wolf Moon because this was the time of year wolves would howl in hunger on cold winter nights. It’s also known as the Old Moon.
Thursday morning one of our planetary neighbors will hit landmark in its solar orbit. Venus will reach its greatest eastern elongation at 8:00 a.m.
Because Venus is an inferior planet (it orbits the sun inside the Earth’s orbit), we never see it at opposition or directly opposite the sun in the sky.
What we will see is Venus moving in and out of the sun’s glare until it eventually appears to reach its farthest point from the sun, from our vantage point here on Earth.
In short, Venus’ position in its orbit will mean optimal viewing from Earth. Because it reaches its greatest elongation, Venus will appear as a “half-moon” if observed through a telescope at nightfall.
Mars will be nearby on the 12th as will Neptune (which might be visible with a telescope as well).
As always, this all hinges on what the weather is doing. Right now we have the chance for clouds and rain later in the week.