This Week’s Night Sky: Planets and Moon Meet Up

Wake up a little early to catch the moon posing with Venus, Mars, and Jupiter before sunrise.

Venus and Mars.  Early risers will get to witness a super-close encounter between Venus and Mars an hour before sunrise on Tuesday, November 3.

Both planets will appear just a little more than a half degree apart—equal to about the width of the full moon. Over the course of the week, Venus will quickly pull away from the fainter, ruddy Mars and sink towards the eastern horizon.

Buzzing Beehive. Before dawn on Tuesday, look for the last quarter moon gliding past the stunning open star cluster called the Beehive in the southeast sky. The cluster will be only five degrees above the moon—equal to the width of your three middle fingers held at arm’s length.

Located in the constellation Cancer, the crab, the stunning open cluster of stars, is bright enough to be just visible to the naked eye as a fuzzy spot. Also known also as Messier 44, it is one of the closest clusters to Earth, at 577 light-years away.

Binoculars and small telescopes, however, will reveal about six dozen member stars stretching across 11 light years of space, but appear to span same chuck of Earth’s sky that two full moon disks take up.

Taurid Fireballs.  From late night Thursday, November 5 through November 12 skywatchers should be on the lookout from exceptionally bright meteors known as fireballs. These shooting stars will appear to radiate out from the part of the sky occupied by their namesake constellation Taurus, the bull, which rises in the east late nights this time of the year.  

The shooting stars have distinct yellow-orange coloration and move a bit more slowly across the sky than the average meteor. Throughout this week, as many as a dozen per hour could be visible from dark skies.

Jovian Gem.  By the morning of Friday, November 6, the moon will shrink to a crescent, snuggling up to the right of Jupiter.

The pair will be very eye-catching at only two degrees apart, equal to the width of four lunar disks. Adding to the beauty will be the Venus-Mars pair, hanging just ten degrees below.

Cosmic Trio. The early morning of Saturday, November 7, will make for a stunning finale to a celestial dance with the thin crescent moon—only 16 percent lit—slipping below Jupiter and pairing up with the brilliant Venus and Mars.

Earth’s natural satellite will appear only two degrees from the planetary duo, making for an amazing photo opportunity.

Keep in mind that while these worlds may look close together in the sky, they are in fact great distances apart. Venus is six light-minutes away, Mars is 18 light-minutes distant, and Jupiter is so far away that reflected sunlight off its cloud tops takes a whopping 49 minutes to reach our eyes.

Clear skies!

Follow Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, on Twitter, Facebook, and his website.

 

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