The Night Skies for November - December


Mars is still in the south west sky (nearby Neptune and Uranus) at sunset, remaining visible for a short time in the evening, but by the end of December the trio will be gone until next year in early spring, when they become prominent in the morning skies. You will need a telescope to find and see both Uranus and Neptune, neither of which show much of a disk except at very high magnifications in larger (8" or better) telescopes.



Above Mars (the bright, red-orange spot near the center) low above the mountains in California just after dark. Minolta SRT 101 with an Accura 300mm f/4.5 preset lens and Kodacolor 200 print film, exposed for approximately 30 seconds of time exposure. -- Issues photo.

Saturn and Jupiter are moving into the evening sky, rising around midnight and visible overhead before sunrise. Saturn is heading toward opposition around the turn of the new year, with Jupiter heading into opposition near the spring of 2002. At opposition they are the closet to the Earth, very bright, rising in the east at sunset and setting in the west at sunrise. Both are spectacular objects in a even a small telescope. You can easily see the rings of Saturn at 60 power and the four brighter moons of Jupiter can be seen in binoculars!


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There will be an occultation of Saturn by the moon between November 30 and December 1st and again between December 27th and 28th. This is when the moon passes between the planet and the Earth blocking our view temporarily. Remember, the moon and Saturn are actually millions of miles away from each other, this is only a visual happening because the moon is so big in the sky and they are lined up close to each other visually. Astronomers make accurate timings of these events to facilitate more accurate measurements of the size and distance of these objects (through advanced math as applied to observations taken from different locations on the Earth). This occultation signifies an almost exact conjunction of the Moon and Saturn. Normally planets and the moon only pass "near" to each other (such as in the picture below of the Moon and Venus, separated here by several degrees -- the width of the moon is about half a degree). The December 1st occultation will be seen over most of inland North America (excluding the far west coast, however San Diego and San Bernardino will get a short glimpse). While Portland, Oregon may not see this one, Portland, Maine will! The December 28th occultation will favor the Western North American continent with a better view (both Portlandís get to see the one almost at the end of the year). For more details check out these web sites:

http://www.lunar-occultations.com/iota/1201sat.htm
http://www.lunar-occultations.com/iota/1228sat.htm

Venus is moving closer to the sun (it can be seen in the morning through part of November), heading for conjunction and the evening sky (becoming prominent around Christmas and New Years) where it will be close to Mars, Uranus and Neptune, although only the brighter Venus will be easily noticed in the glare of twilight...



Above, Venus and the crescent Moon near conjunction (same approximate location in the sky) just before sunrise. Note, the bright lower area of the moon is reflected sunlight, with the dimmer upper disk is lighted by light reflected from the Earth (Earthshine). Minolta SRT 101 with an Accura 300mm f/4.5 preset lens and Kodacolor 200 print film, exposed for approximately 5 seconds of time exposure. -- Issues photo.

Meteor shower for this period is the Leonids, which is seen best from the night of November 17th to 18th after midnight. Every decade this show becomes ultra spectacular, with more meteor streaks than you can count! This year the shower of streaks will probably be above average (normally 10 - 30) with as many as several hundred to several thousand streaks per hour in dark, rural skies. This, however, is shear speculation and it is also possible this could be the less-than-spectacular common display of just a few dim streaks per hour.






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