This Week’s Sky at a Glance, Nov. 29 – Dec. 7

 

Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Moon at dusk, Nov. 28-29, 2019

In the southwestern twilight, Venus and Jupiter are drawing farther apart as the waxing crescent Moon briefly poses with Saturn. (The Moon in these views is always drawn three times its actual apparent size.)

Venus, Saturn and Jupiter at dusk, Dec. 6, 2019

By week's end, Jupiter is going bye-bye and Venus, having ditched Jupiter, is closing in on Saturn. (The blue 10° scale is about the width of your fist at arm's length.)

Friday, Nov. 29

• The Moon pairs with Saturn in late twilight, as shown here. Start looking early, before Venus and especially Jupiter get too low.

• Vega still shines brightly well up in the west-northwest after dark. The brightest star above it is Deneb, the head of the big Northern Cross, which is made of the brightest stars of Cygnus. At nightfall the shaft of the cross extends lower left from Deneb (Albireo is the Cross's foot). By about 10 p.m., it plants itself more or less upright on the northwest horizon.

Saturday, Nov. 30

• As the stars come out, the Cassiopeia W stands on end very high in the northeast. Watch Cas turn around to become a flattened M, even higher in the north, by late evening.

Sunday, Dec. 1

Two faint fuzzies naked-eye: Before the evening Moon gets any brighter (it's now a thick crescent in Capricornus), take a naked-eye try for the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) and the Perseus Double Cluster. They're both cataloged as 4th magnitude and are only 22° apart. They're very high toward the northeast right after dark: to the upper right of Cassiopeia and closer to Cassiopeia's lower right, respectively. They're plotted on the all-sky constellation map in the center of the November and December Sky & Telescopes.

Monday, Dec. 2

• Look lower left of the Moon early this evening for Fomalhaut, the lonely "Autumn Star."

Whenever Fomalhaut is on the meridian due south (just after nightfall now) Aldebaran and the Pleiades are up in the east — and the first stars of Orion will soon rise below them if you're in the world's mid-northern latitudes.

And, at this time the Pointers of the Big Dipper always stand upright low due north, straight below Polaris.

Tuesday, Dec. 3

• Now Fomalhaut is almost straight under the Moon at nightfall. The Moon is first-quarter this evening and tomorrow evening.

Wednesday, Dec. 4

• Right after dark, look high above the Moon for the Great Square of Pegasus oriented level.

• Orion fully clears the eastern horizon by about 8 p.m. now, depending on how far east or west you live in your time zone. High above Orion shines orange Aldebaran. Above Aldebaran is the little Pleiades cluster, the size of your fingertip at arm's length.

Far left of Aldebaran and the Pleiades shines bright Capella.

Down below Orion, brilliant Sirius rises around 9.

Thursday, Dec. 5

• Now the Moon is straight below the east (left) side of the Great Square of Pegasus in early evening.

Friday, Dec. 6

• The Moon shines lower left of the Great Square of Pegasus.

Gulf Coast asteroid occultation tonight. David Dunham writes, "One of the brighter asteroidal occultations of the year, just before 11pm CST, will occur across southern Texas, just s. of New Orleans, and over Jacksonville, FL. It will be the occultation of 6.5-mag. 18 Aurigae by the 72-km asteroid (55) Pandora. Clear skies are predicted for s. Texas, and it may be clear enough to observe it from Jacksonville as well. Details are at www.occultationpages.com/events/20191207_55_Pandora.html.

Saturday, Dec. 7

• Vega is still the brightest star in the west-northwest in early evening. The brightest above it is Deneb. Farther to Vega's left is Altair, midway in brightness between Vega and Deneb.

These three form the Summer Triangle, and when the Summer Triangle finds itself here, you can look for the Great Square of Pegasus crossing the meridian high in the south.

Earliest sunset of the year today, if you live near latitude 40° north. Even though we're still two weeks from the winter solstice.

This offset of the earliest sunset from solstice date is balanced out by the opposite happening at sunrise: The Sun doesn't come up its latest until January 4th. Why?  Blame the tilt of Earth's axis and the eccentricity of Earth's orbit.

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Want to become a better astronomer? Learn your way around the constellations. They're the key to locating everything fainter and deeper to hunt with binoculars or a telescope.

This is an outdoor nature hobby. For an easy-to-use constellation guide covering the whole evening sky, use the big monthly map in the center of each issue of Sky & Telescope, the essential guide to astronomy.

Jumbo Pocket Sky Atlas cover

The Pocket Sky Atlas plots 30,796 stars to magnitude 7.6, and hundreds of telescopic galaxies, star clusters, and nebulae among them. Shown above is the Jumbo Edition for easier reading in the night. Sample chart.

Once you get a telescope, to put it to good use you'll need a detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of charts). The basic standard is the Pocket Sky Atlas (in either the original or Jumbo Edition), which shows stars to magnitude 7.6.

Next up is the larger and deeper Sky Atlas 2000.0, plotting stars to magnitude 8.5; nearly three times as many. The next up, once you know your way around, are the even larger Interstellarum atlas (stars to magnitude 9.5) and Uranometria 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 9.75). And read how to use sky charts with a telescope.

You'll also want a good deep-sky guidebook, such as Sue French's Deep-Sky Wonders collection (which includes its own charts), Sky Atlas 2000.0 Companion by Strong and Sinnott, or the bigger Night Sky Observer's Guide by Kepple and Sanner.

Can a computerized telescope replace charts? Not for beginners, I don't think, and not on mounts and tripods that are less than top-quality mechanically (meaning really heavy and expensive). And as Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer say in their Backyard Astronomer's Guide, "A full appreciation of the universe cannot come without developing the skills to find things in the sky and understanding how the sky works. This knowledge comes only by spending time under the stars with star maps in hand."


This Week's Planet Roundup

Mercury, Mars and Spica at dawn, end of November 2019

Mercury far outshines Mars in early dawn. Even Spica is brighter than Mars, which is now on the far side of its orbit from us.

Mercury, a fine magnitude –0.6 all week, is having its best dawn apparition of 2019! Spot it low in the east-southeast as much as an hour before sunrise. The earlier in the week, the higher it will be.

Look for it very far below Arcturus (and perhaps a little to the right depending on your latitude). Mercury is closer to the lower left of fainter Mars and Spica, as shown here.

Mars (magnitude +1.8, in Virgo) is low in the east-southeast in early dawn to the upper right of Mercury, as shown here. Brighter Spica shines farther upper right of Mars. This line of three expands from 24° to 33° long this week, as Mercury sinks lower and Mars and Spica get higher.

Venus (magnitude –3.9, in Sagittarius) shines low in the southwest in evening twilight, a little higher each week. It's on its way up to a grand, high "Evening Star" apparition all this coming winter and into spring.

Jupiter (magnitude –1.8) moves farther to the lower right of Venus in twilight and becomes trickier to spot before it sets. The gap between them increases from 6° to 12° this week.

Saturn on Nov 20, 2019

Saturn on Nov 20th, imaged by Damian Peach with the 1-meter Chilescope. South is up. He writes, "A late-apparition image [i.e. the planet is not very high in darkness, even from Chile]. Seeing was fair. Probably my last one of this apparition. Little activity, but the polar hexagon is well seen along with the central polar spot."

Saturn (magnitude +0.6, also in Sagittarius) is the steady yellow "star" upper left of bright Venus. Every evening Venus gets about 1° closer to Saturn; the gap between them narrows from 13° to 5° this week.

They'll be in conjunction, just under 2° apart, on December 10th and 11th.

Uranus (magnitude 5.7, in southern Aries) and Neptune (magnitude 7.9, in eastern Aquarius) stand about equally high in the south and southeast, respectively, in early evening. Use our finder charts for Uranus and Neptune.


All descriptions that relate to your horizon — including the words up, down, right, and left — are written for the world's mid-northern latitudes. Descriptions that also depend on longitude (mainly Moon positions) are for North America.

Eastern Standard Time (EST) is Universal Time (UT, UTC, GMT, or Z time) minus 5 hours.


Audio sky tour. Out under the evening sky with your earbuds in place, listen to Kelly Beatty's monthly podcast tour of the heavens above. It's free.


"The dangers of not thinking clearly are much greater now than ever before. It's not that there's something new in our way of thinking, it's that credulous and confused thinking can be much more lethal in ways it was never before."
– Carl Sagan, 1996

"Facts are stubborn things."
– John Adams, 1770

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