Categories: Sky Reports
As the sky is growing dark the planet Jupiter appears in the southeast, followed soon after by Saturn a short distance to the left. These planets are 8° apart this month, but that gap will narrow dramatically in months to come until they’re almost touching (as your eye sees them) in late December. Note their separation now and remember it this fall. By the way, 8° is about the width of four fingers held at arm’s length.
On the evening of Friday the 28th the moon is less than 3° below Jupiter in a nice pairing when both objects will fit within the field of view of binoculars. They appear close together in the sky but Jupiter is far beyond, of course; it’s 1700 times farther than the moon. If our moon were orbiting Jupiter it would appear as small and as faint as Jupiter’s smallest moon, named Io, which you can see in any telescope. Saturn is precisely twice as distant as Jupiter, which is the main reason Saturn looks fainter.
On the next evening, Saturday the 29th, the moon is twice as far (6½°) to the left of Saturn.
Working backward in time, on the evening of Tuesday the 25th the first-quarter moon is 5½° above the bright star Antares. Note Antares’ orange color; it’s a red giant star 14,000,000,000 times as distant as the moon; that’s the ratio of 440 years to 1 second. Antares is the “heart of Scorpius, the Scorpion”, which is one of the oldest constellations, originating in the Middle East.
The moon is at its first-quarter phase on the 25th, and the few days after are the best time to look at the moon with a telescope, when shadows are long and the large crater Copernicus and tall, curved mountain ranges are prominent.
The third planet you’ll see tonight is Mars, which rises by 11 PM. Mars is brighter than any star and it has a noticeable orange color, so you can’t miss it. Mars is high in the south as dawn begins.
Last but not least is Venus, which rises at 3:30 and which is a third of the way up the eastern sky at 6 AM. Venus is the brightest planet, and it now rises as early as it will all this summer.
Jupiter and Saturn are in eastern Sagittarius, Mars is in Pisces, and Venus is in Gemini.
The Sky Report is presented as a public service by the Stellar Vista Observatory, a nonprofit organization based in Kanab, Utah, which provides opportunities for people to observe, appreciate, and comprehend our starry night sky. Additional information is at www.stellarvistaobservatory.org. Send questions and comments to John@StargazingAdventures.org.