Categories: Sky Reports
The naked-eye planets are pretty much where they’ve been all month, but you might look for one “minor planet”. More on it momentarily.
First, Mercury is making a poor appearance in the evening sky. You might see it in twilight slightly to the left of where the sun just set. Mercury is only about 10° high at the moment of sunset so it’s a very challenging object. On the 28th the ultra-thin crescent moon is 9° straight to the right of Mercury, so look that night with binoculars or a telescope. Good luck!
Saturn rises in the east as the sun sets in the west, and as the hours pass it moves to the south, appearing due south and 1/3 of the way up the sky at 2 a.m.
At 2 a.m. Jupiter is halfway up the southeastern sky where it outshines every star by at least several times. Jupiter rises roughly 2 hours before midnight and it’s in Cetus.
Mars follows Jupiter by about 3 hours, rising shortly after midnight. It too is brighter than any star and it’s distinctly orange, so you can’t miss it in the morning hours. Mars is just above the orange star Aldebaran, the eye of Taurus, the Bull. Aldebaran is one of the brightest stars but Mars outshines it by 2½ times. The earth is catching up to Mars as we orbit the sun faster on an inside track, and Mars will be closer and considerably brighter when we catch it in December. Note the difference in brightness between Mars and Aldebaran now, and then note the difference in December.
Venus rises 80 minutes before the sun but its great brilliance lets you see it in morning twilight, leading the sun as they both rise a bit north of due east. On the morning of the 25th the thin crescent moon is 6° above Venus and you can see them together in wide-angle binoculars. In the hours before sunrise the winter constellations Orion, Taurus, Canis Major, Gemini, etc. are all prominent, giving you a preview of the evening sky you’ll see this coming winter.
That minor planet alluded to is Vesta, which lies opposite the sun (at “opposition”) on the 23rd. Vesta is the third-largest of the thousands of asteroids that orbit between Mars and Jupiter, and it was discovered in 1807. It’s round with a diameter of only 300 miles – a sixth the diameter of our moon – and at a distance of 120 million miles – 500 times the distance of the moon – it’s no surprise that you need at least binoculars to see it, and at 6th magnitude it’s easily visible in any binoculars or telescope. You’ll find it in Aquarius 11° to the left of Saturn. Heavens-Above.com and other websites can generate a finding chart. Vesta appears point-like (“asteroid” means “starlike”) in any telescope but the Dawn spacecraft orbited it 10 years ago and we have marvelous photos of it from up close. Google “Vesta” for more information.
Stellar Vista Observatory provides portable telescopes and tripod mounted binocular kits on loan for free to residents and visitors in Kane County. Enhance your enjoyment of the night sky! For details or to request a loan, visit https://stellarvistaobservatory.org/discover-the-night-sky/ or drop in to the Kane County Office of Tourism.
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.