Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Generous Skies All through November

Generous Skies All through November
by Dave Adalian

November is a traditional time of plenty on Earth, and this month the generosity extends itself into the skies.

As I mentioned last month, Venus has retaken her place as the Evening Star for the holidays, becoming the brightest of the visible planets as the year dwindles. This week, she sits low--almost due southwest at sunset--shining bright but sinking fast.

The Evenstar will be easier to spot on Tuesday, Nov. 25, when a brand new crescent Moon, just a sliver really, sits to her left. It will take a keen eye to spot so slim a Moon. Those who do may notice how bright the normally dark part of the Moon seems. That’s earthshine reflecting back at us from the shaded lunar surface.

During the last days of November, Venus follows another bright planet, swift Mercury, into the gloaming. Mercury is called quick with good reason; if you don’t get a look at him in early December, he’s lost in twilight by mid-month. For those two weeks, he’ll be below and to the right of ever brightening Venus.

While waiting for Mercury to make an appearance, take time to revisit a now much weakened Mars. The Warrior God is only about one-tenth as bright as at his height three months ago. High in the southeast at dusk, Mars sets not long after midnight. Luna will visit him on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.

By about 10 o’clock, Saturn is high in the east among the bright stars of Gemini. Like Mars before him, Saturn is gathering for a close pass by Earth on New Year’s Eve. He still shows few obvious signs to distinguish him from a star. Best to let the Moon point Saturn out when she sits directly above him on the night of Dec. 9, then to his left on Dec. 10.

With Saturn’s rings still open and reflecting sunlight in our direction, the Bringer of Death with its dirty yellow glow is a bright and stunning sight through the telescope. See it this month or next as it won’t be this spectacular again until 2030.

The King of Planets is still better for morning larks than night owls as winter approaches. Although it rises now not long after midnight, it isn’t until the last hour or two before dawn Jupiter is best. The Moon marks Jupiter and the constellation Leo in the early morning Dec. 16.

Clear skies!


This column originally appeared in the Visalia (Calif.) Times-Delta on Nov. 18, 2003.