Every week, SkyNews publishes a list of key events in the Canadian sky in This Week’s Sky. This series gives you all the latest news in Solar System movements, including where the planets are in our sky and Moon phases. From eclipses to meteor showers, This Week’s Sky keeps you updated on the best in upcoming astronomical highlights.
Monday, November 28 – Young crescent Moon near Saturn (evening)
As the sky darkens the evening of Monday, November 28, the yellowish dot of Saturn will be positioned more than a palm’s width to the upper left (or seven degrees to the celestial northeast) of the young crescent Moon in the southern sky. By the time the Moon sets in the west around 9:30 p.m. local time, its orbital motion will have carried it a bit closer to Saturn. On Tuesday evening, the Moon will shine farther to Saturn’s upper left.
Tuesday, November 29 – Half Moon approaches Vesta (evening)
In the southwestern sky on Tuesday evening, November 29, the waxing, nearly half-illuminated Moon will be positioned several finger widths to the right (or four degrees to the celestial west) of the main belt asteroid designated (4) Vesta. That is close enough for the magnitude 7.6 minor planet to share the view in binoculars (green circle). Skywatchers in westerly time zones will see the Moon closer to Vesta. Backyard telescope users can use the double star 53 Aquarii shining just to Vesta’s north-northwest (inset) to locate the asteroid. Watch for Saturn to their lower right nearby during early evening.
Wednesday, November 30 – A second first quarter Moon passes Juno (at 14:36 GMT)
When a major lunar phase occurs very early in a calendar month, it can repeat at the end of that month. For the second time in November, the Moon will complete the first quarter of its journey around Earth on Wednesday, November 30 at 9:36 a.m. EST, 6:36 a.m. PST, and 14:36 GMT.
When the Moon rises in the Americas during late afternoon, it will be shining in Aquarius, below and between the bright planets Jupiter and Saturn. Telescope owners (green circle) can seek out the magnitude 9.2 speck of the asteroid Juno sitting less than a lunar diameter to the Moon’s lower left (or celestial south).
The evenings surrounding the first quarter Moon are the best ones for seeing the lunar terrain when it is dramatically lit by low-angle sunlight, especially along the terminator — the pole-to-pole boundary that separates the Moon’s lit and dark hemispheres.
Thursday, December 1 – Mars closest to Earth (overnight)
A week before Mars reaches opposition, the red planet will be closest to Earth from Wednesday evening into Thursday morning — December 1 in the Americas. At that time, Mars will be 50.61 million miles, 81.45 million kilometres, or 4.53 light-minutes away.
In a telescope, the planet will exhibit a maximum apparent disk size of 17.2 arc-seconds, and reveal the greatest amount of surface detail. The bright, reddish planet will shine high in the southern sky between the horn stars of Taurus. The first nights of December will also be ideal for attempting to see Mars’ tiny moons, Phobos and Deimos, especially during the hours when they wander farther from the bright red planet’s glare.
Mars will continue to visibly brighten in the sky until opposition night on December 7-8. The week delay occurs, because the distance between Earth’s and Mars’ elliptical orbits is increasing at this time of the year.
Thursday, December 1 – Moon passes bright Jupiter and faint Neptune (evening)
In the southeastern afternoon sky on Thursday, December 1, the waxing gibbous Moon will be positioned several finger widths to the lower right (or celestial south) of the bright, magnitude -2.6 planet Jupiter.
The duo will be close enough to share the view in binoculars (green circle), allowing observers to glimpse the giant planet’s speck in the daytime. The pair will remain together in the evening, and set in the west after midnight local time. By then the diurnal rotation of the sky will shift Jupiter to the Moon’s left.
Much fainter, magnitude 7.9 Neptune will be positioned a palm’s width to Jupiter’s right (or celestial west-southwest), but the bright moonlight will make seeing the distant blue planet more difficult. On moonless nights, Neptune is visible through good binoculars and backyard telescopes.
Friday, December 2 – Mars skirts a star cluster (all night)
For several nights commencing on Friday, December 2, the westerly retrograde motion of the bright red planet Mars (indicated by the red markers labelled with the date at 8 p.m.) will carry it just a thumb’s width to the celestial north of a large open star cluster named NGC 1746 — close enough for them to share the eyepiece in a backyard telescope at low magnification (green circle).
On Friday evening, Mars will shine to the cluster’s upper left. By Sunday night, Mars will migrate above NGC 1746’s smattering of stars, which are scattered over an area larger than a full Moon. A quality telescope will also show Mars’ enlarged ochre disk festooned with a white polar cap and dark surface markings.
Saturday, December 3 – Neptune pauses near Jupiter (evening)
On Saturday evening, December 3 in the Americas, the distant blue planet Neptune will complete a retrograde loop that has been carrying it slowly westward through the stars of northeastern Aquarius since late June. After pausing its motion tonight, Neptune will return to its regular eastward motion.
On moonless evenings in December, the magnitude 7.9 planet can be observed in good binoculars and backyard telescopes — but a bright, waning gibbous Moon will shine near Neptune tonight. Perhaps wait a few nights, and then search for the faint planet a palm’s width to the lower right (or six degrees to the celestial west-southwest) of Jupiter. Neptune and Jupiter will be almost cozy enough to share the field of view in binoculars (green circle).
Sunday, December 4 – Bright Moon approaches Uranus (all night)
On Sunday night, December 4, the bright, waxing gibbous Moon will be positioned less than a fist’s diameter to the right (or approximately eight degrees to the celestial west-southwest) of the magnitude 5.6 planet Uranus. The moon’s eastward orbital motion, plus the diurnal rotation of the sky, will tuck Luna closer below Uranus during the night. Observers in westerly time zones will see the pair closest together before dawn. Hours later, observers in northeastern Africa, Europe (except Iceland), part of the Middle East, Russia, and northern Japan can see the Moon occult Uranus on Monday around 17:00 GMT. Watch for bright red Mars and the little Pleiades star cluster, also designated Messier 45, positioned to their left (celestial east).
Chris Vaughan is a science writer, geophysicist, astronomer, planetary scientist and an “outreach RASCal.” He writes Astronomy Skylights, and you can follow him on Twitter at @astrogeoguy. He can also bring his Digital Starlab portable inflatable planetarium to your school or other daytime or evening event. Contact him through AstroGeo.ca to tour the Universe together.