Categories: Sky Reports
THE astronomical event of the year is unfolding in front of our eyes and you don’t even need a telescope to appreciate it. That’s the ultra-close conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn which has been unfolding for months and which reaches a climax on the 21st. I keep emphasizing that planetary motions are a process, not one-night events, and they’re your opportunity to actually watch the planets move and to see changes in the sky. Jupiter and Saturn will be at their closest on the 21st and the news media will focus on and hype that night as if only that one night mattered, but regular readers of the Sky Report know better.
As the week begins Jupiter is a quarter of the way up the southwest sky as darkness falls, and Jupiter is so bright it’s the first “star” to appear. On the 7th fainter Saturn sits a scant 1½° to the upper left of Jupiter. This is three times the diameter of the moon and less than the width of a finger held at arm’s length, so they’re especially close. You can easily see them together in binoculars and even in wide-angle low-power telescopes. But Jupiter is moving toward Saturn and on the 13th their separation has decreased to less one degree! Watch them nightly and notice the change.
Also in the evening sky is the orange planet Mars, brighter than any star and high in the southeast as darkness falls; it’s visible until well after midnight. Brilliant Venus is in the morning sky where it rises two hours before the sun and is very pretty as dawn approaches.
The year’s best meteor shower, the Geminids, peaks on the nights of the 13th and the 14th with most meteors falling after midnight. These slow meteors are debris shed by asteroid Phaethon, which is highly unusual as other meteors come from comets, but perhaps Phaethon is a “dead” comet since it has a comet-like orbit. These meteors radiate from the direction of the constellation Gemini, and hence their name, although they’re seen all over the sky. You might see one meteor a minute including faint ones. Dress warmly!
As always, Google “Geminids” and “Phaethon” for much more information. A total eclipse of the sun happens on the 14th, but it’s visible only from southern South America; there’s nothing to see from North America.
Photo Credit: Terence Dickinson
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