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].
There’s an eclipse of the full moon on Monday morning, but you won’t see it, or at best you won’t see much. A lunar eclipse happens when the moon moves into the shadow of the Earth. If you were on the moon, you’d see Earth move in front of the sun.
As opposed to a total lunar eclipse, when the Earth completely blocks the sun’s light and the moon grows quite dark, this eclipse is partial and you’ll have to look carefully to notice that anything is happening. Look between about 1-4 a.m., best around 2:30 a.m., and you might notice that the upper right half of the moon is slightly darker than the rest. The eclipse happens simultaneously for people on the half of the Earth that faces the moon (adjust time zones if necessary). Use binoculars. Notice that the moon is between the Hyades and Pleiades Star Clusters in Taurus.
Much more rewarding to see are the planets Jupiter and Saturn, which continue to draw closer together. They’re low in the southwest as darkness falls, so look early. Jupiter is very bright and Saturn is a scant 2 degrees – the width of a finger held at arm’s length – to Jupiter’s upper left. You can easily see them together in binoculars.
Jupiter is approaching Saturn and on Dec. 21, they’ll be closer than they have been in centuries, so watch them nightly for the next few weeks; it’s a great opportunity to watch planets move and to see change in the sky.
Two more bright planets are out: Mars and Venus. Orange Mars is high in the southeast at sunset where it outshines every star in the sky; it sets around 3 a.m. Mars was closest two months ago, but it’s still bright so enjoy it while it’s still around.
The last planet visible is Venus, the “morning star,” which is low in the southeast an hour before sunrise. Venus outshines everything else in the night sky except the moon, and it’s especially pretty – and a good photo op – with dawn colors. Venus remains visible long after sunrise if you know where to look.
Also out tonight are Uranus and Neptune, which flank Mars and are visible in the evening if you have good binoculars or a small telescope plus a good star chart or astronomy app. Next week: the year’s best meteor shower.
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.