With family and friends visiting this Thanksgiving, why not take them outside tonight for some stargazing? It is a favorite activity for kids, teens and adults. No fancy equipment necessary, but sometimes it helps to have an idea of stuff to look for to hold everyone's interest.
Tonight in Connecticut, it is a beautiful evening to stargaze, and the stars will hold the spotlight tonight because there is a new moon (not visible) at around 1 a.m.
Highlights include transit of Ganymede in front of Jupiter on Monday night--you need a telescope for this one...
|Friday, November 25|
New Moon occurs at 1:10 a.m. EST. At its new phase, the Moon crosses the sky with the Sun and typically remains hidden in our star’s glare. But for a few lucky people, that won’t be the case today. Observers in South Africa (during the morning hours) and Tasmania (late afternoon) will witness the Moon take a tiny bite of the Sun. Viewers on New Zealand’s South Island will see the Moon devour some 30 percent of our star as the pair sets. Remember that when viewing the Sun during a partial eclipse, protect your eyes with a safe solar filter.
Saturday, November 26
Look just above the southwestern horizon early this evening and you’ll see a waxing crescent Moon paired with brilliant Venus. The two will present a pretty photo opportunity with the colors of twilight serving as a backdrop.
The asteroid 15 Eunomia glows at 8th magnitude among the background stars of southern Perseus. This normally wouldn’t be an object to highlight, but tonight the 200-mile-wide (320 kilometers) space rock sits right on the edge of the California Nebula (NGC 1499). Although this glowing gas cloud appears prominent in photographs, it is difficult to see through a telescope. Use a Hydrogen-beta filter and observe under a dark sky to make it more noticeable. In contrast, Eunomia stands out because only a few stars in its vicinity shine as bright.
|Monday, November 28|
If your sky is clear, head outside as darkness falls and look to the southwest. There you’ll see a lovely crescent Moon silhouetted against the background stars of Sagittarius. Although just 17 percent of our satellite is in sunlight, look carefully at its unlit side and you should see a faint illumination. This is “earthshine” — light from the Sun that reflects off Earth, hits the Moon, and then bounces back to our eyes. It shows up well on a thin lunar crescent because, from the Moon’s point of view, Earth appears almost completely lit.
Tuesday, November 29
Target Jupiter with a telescope this morning and you’ll swear the giant planet has a black eye. In reality, the dark spot traversing the jovian disk is the shadow of the solar system’s largest moon, Ganymede. The satellite itself first appears against the planet’s bright atmosphere at 1:51 a.m. EST (10:51 p.m. PST on the 28th). Its tiny disk takes just over 100 minutes to cross the gas giant’s south polar regions. But the more interesting event begins at 4:55 a.m. EST (1:55 a.m. PST) when Ganymede’s shadow first falls on the planet’s cloud tops. This conspicuous shadow transit, which occurs after Jupiter sets along the East Coast, lasts until 6:48 a.m. EST (3:48 a.m. PST).
Although the calendar may say late November, the Summer Triangle of bright stars remains prominent during early evening hours. Look high in the west-northwest after darkness falls and you’ll spot Deneb, a conspicuous point of light despite being the faintest of the three. Brighter Vega lies directly below Deneb (and nearly halfway to the zenith), while Altair lies about 45° (one-eighth of a complete circle) to Vega’s left.
Venus lies among the background stars of Sagittarius the Archer this week. Shortly after sunset tonight, you can see the brilliant planet less than 1° north of 3rd-magnitude Lambda (λ) Sagittarii, the star that forms the lid of the Archer’s Teapot asterism.
The eclipsing variable Algol in Perseus reaches minimum brightness at 6:18 a.m. EST tomorrow morning. If you start watching it during late evening, you can see its brightness diminish by 70 percent over the course of about 5 hours as its magnitude drops from 2.1 to 3.4. Algol appears nearly overhead in late evening and dips lower in the northwest after midnight.
Friday, December 2
First Quarter Moon occurs at 4:52 a.m. EST. The Moon doesn’t rise until shortly after noon local time, however, and by the time darkness sets in, our satellite appears 55 percent lit. It then lies in western Pisces, just west of that constellation’s Circlet asterism.
Venus appears 0.8° southwest of the globular star cluster M22 this evening. You will likely need large binoculars to see the cluster in the darkening sky shortly after sunset.