This Week’s Sky: November 24 – December 1

The Moon says hello to Mars and Uranus.

McDonald-Fisheye Orion

The constellation Orion is a sure sign that winter is coming. Victoria, British Columbia, astrophotographer John McDonald obtained this fish-eye view from his moonlit backyard on November 12.

All Week

Jupiter rising

Jupiter rises in the east amongst the brilliant stars of winter.

The early evening’s sole bright planet is Mars, which is steadily making its way eastward along the ecliptic. At midweek, the red planet’s altitude is nearly 18 degrees an hour after sunset. It slips below the western horizon at about 8 p.m., local standard time. Next up is big bright Jupiter, which rises a little before 10:30 p.m. and transits the meridian (the imaginary line that joins north and south and passes directly overhead) at 5:30 a.m. — a good 15 minutes before the start of astronomical twilight.

November 25/26

Moon and Mars

The Moon passes near Mars in the early evening sky.

On these evenings, the waxing crescent Moon lies within 10 degrees of Mars. The Moon will be a little closer to the planet on November 25. They will make a fine early evening sight in the twilight sky.

November 29

The Moon reaches first-quarter phase this morning at 5:06 a.m., EST. That means it’ll be a little less than half lit on the evening of November 28, and a little past first-quarter by nightfall on November 29.

December 1

Moon and Uranus

The Moon and Uranus close encounter as viewed in 10×50 binoculars at 6 p.m., EST, from Ontario.

This evening the gibbous Moon will pass just north of the planet Uranus. The two will be at their closest in the early evening — as soon as twilight fades. For observers in southern Ontario, the lunar disc will lie within 10 arc-minutes of Uranus — less than half a Moon diameter away. By the time darkness arrives on the West Coast, the two will be separated by more than a degree. You’ll need binoculars or a small telescope to see this encounter.

Weekend Stargazer

Uranus chart

The distant planet Uranus is currently located in Pisces. The shaded area above corresponds to the field of view of 10×50 binoculars or a telescope’s finderscope. (Click on the image for a larger view.)

The November 28 – 30 weekend is a good one for trying your hand at finding Uranus — especially if you want to locate it before its close encounter with the Moon on Monday (December 1) evening.

Uranus was the first planet discovered after the invention of the telescope. British astronomer William Herschel found it in March 1781, with his 6-inch reflector telescope from his home in Bath, England. When he stumbled across Uranus, he initially mistook it for a comet. It was only after accumulating months of observations that an orbit could be calculated and the planet’s true nature was revealed.

As the chart above shows, Uranus is a 5.7-magnitude object residing in southern Pisces. That means it’s within easy reach of binoculars, though you may have some trouble distinguishing it from nearby stars. This is where a telescope comes in handy. Once you have located the planet’s field, bump up the magnification in your scope and look for a tiny, pale-green dot. That’s Uranus. The planet’s disc spans only 3.7 arc-seconds, so there’s not much to see — the fun lies in repeating Herschel’s discovery.

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