Three bright planets & using the moon to find Gemini
How to see Mars, Jupiter and Saturn this week
If you’re new to this newsletter, welcome! I’m Abby. I’m a freelance science journalist, stargazing columnist and author of The Art of Urban Astronomy. I live in England, where we have just entered a second lockdown…this time in winter. I started this newsletter to help people through the dark nights, with ideas of what to look for in the skies each week. If you live in the southern hemisphere don’t worry, I always try to make sure it applies to stargazers around the world.
I hope everyone has had a lovely week. Last week a few readers got in touch to say they’d seen the Pleiades star cluster, and a few others said they had noticed it on their dog walks but didn’t know what it was! If you missed it, you can still see the Pleiades for the next few weeks - this is how to find it.
This week I will be focussing on the planets. There’s an incredibly rare event called a great conjunction happening on 21st December, where Saturn and Jupiter will appear in the same place in the sky. Until then, they’re very close together and edging closer as every day passes. This makes them a great pair to look for, just after sunset in the south-west.
Jupiter, Saturn and Mars
To find Jupiter and Saturn, you need to look as soon as the sun has set. At the moment they will be visible for about two hours, but they will start setting earlier as the days go on. Jupiter will be brightest, with Saturn slightly dimmer. In the northern hemisphere, Saturn will be above to the left of Jupiter, while in the southern hemisphere it will be below and to the right.
Mars continues to shine throughout most of the night, setting at around 3AM in the UK. Its distinctive red colour looks even more impressive through a pair of binoculars, even a small pair, so if you have any at all try looking through them.
This week is a great time to look at the moon, which will be a full moon on the night this newsletter is going out (30th November). If you’re thinking of looking for some of its craters through binoculars or a small telescope, try Wednesday or Thursday this week. A few days before or after the full moon is usually the best time to do stuff like that, because the full moon can be too bright to see details properly.
This evening, the moon will make a triangle with the Pleiades cluster and the bright star Aldebaran, both in the constellation of Taurus.
Then, on Thursday the moon will be in the constellation of Gemini, so if you have a clear sky it’s a great time to try to locate Gemini. On the 13th December, the Geminids meteor shower will peak, with meteors radiating from Gemini, spreading out over the sky. Next week I’ll cover exactly how to find Gemini, but you can cheat this week (3rd December) by finding the moon and looking for the two bright stars next to it.
As always, I would love to hear from you. If you have any requests about what I should be covering, or if you managed to see something I mentioned, please let me know.
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