Stellar Vista Observatory Sky Report: Nov. 23-29

Stock image, St. George News

SOUTHERN UTAH — 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 available online. Send questions and comments to [email protected].

Three planets grace the evening sky: Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Mars is brighter than any star in the evening sky and it’s almost halfway up the eastern sky. Many early peoples associated its reddish color with blood and war. The nearly full moon is 5 degrees below Mars on Wednesday.

At the same time, Jupiter is low in the southwest. Jupiter is twice as bright as Mars and it sets before 9 p.m.

A very short distance to the upper left of Jupiter is the distant planet Saturn, which is as bright as a bright star. The distance between these two planets has been decreasing for months. Both planets are traveling eastward against the background of stars, but Jupiter is moving faster because it is closer to the sun and feels the pull of the sun’s gravity more. The result is that Jupiter is approaching Saturn – as seen from Earth, not in actual space – and it will pass very close to Saturn in less than one month.

Their separation is 3 degrees on Monday but only 2 ⅓ degrees by Sunday. You can easily see both planets together in binoculars and next month you’ll see them together in a wide-angle telescope. Stay tuned.

Once Jupiter and Saturn set, Mars is the sole bright planet until it sets at 3 a.m., and then the sky is planetless until Venus rises at 5 a.m. Venus is brighter than anything else in the night sky except the moon. Venus has been the reliable “morning star” since June, but it’s slowly leaving us as it moves behind the sun. It will still be around the rest of the year, but it rises later and is slightly lower each morning as it moves more nearly in line with the sun.

People have seen Comet ATLAS c/2020 M3 with binoculars but it’s huge and diffuse, so an extremely dark sky is a must. Look after 9 p.m. Bright moonlight will interfere. As with all comets, Google its full name for maps and details.

Harder to locate is Comet Erasmus C/2020 S3, which is a short distance to the right of Venus. It was discovered only two months ago. It too is predicted to be within the range of binoculars, but the approaching sunrise will make it a challenge and you’ll need a very low horizon.

Next week, there will be an eclipse of the moon you probably won’t see, on Nov. 30.

Written by JOHN MOSLEY. John Mosley was program supervisor of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles for 27 years and is the author of “Stargazing for Beginners” and “Stargazing with Binoculars and Telescopes”. He and his wife live in St. George where he continues to stargaze from his retirement home while serving on the advisory committee for Stellar Vista Observatory.

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