Venus – Saturn Conjunction

   Wednesday evening November 11th look toward the western horizon for a grouping of 3 planets and one dwarf planet. Very low over the horizon and possibly to low to be seen is the outer planet Jupiter. About 7-8o east from Jupiter is the dwarf planet Ceres, however at nearly 9th magnitude and low above the horizon Ceres will be difficult to see, if at all.
   Several degrees east from Jupiter and Ceres is the brightly shining inner planet Venus and about 1-2o from Venus is the outer planet Saturn. These two planets will make a nice contrast in apparent magnitude (Venus: -3.95 Saturn: 0.57) as they easily will fit within the field of view of binoculars.

   
   
   

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Tales Along the Ecliptic

   Once in a while the planets are arranged such that they are spread across the sky as they look in this graphic. However over time, several days, this arrangement changes as the planets continue moving along their orbits.
   The planets are not lined up in a straight line outward from the Sun but rather are arranged along the ecliptic. The ecliptic is the Earth’s orbital path around the Sun and the respective orbit of each planet is inclined from the ecliptic. And this is one of those times when it is easy to visualize the ecliptic. Click here to read a previous posting about the ecliptic and planet inclination.

   This animated graphic is showing the terrestrial planets as they move along their respective orbits for this month. They are not ‘lined up’ as they appear to be in the above horizon picture.

   This graphic shows the solar system out to Neptune and from this perspective the planets are obviously not in a straight line on December 1st.

   
   
   

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November Moon at Descending Node

   Yesterday Friday November 29th the Moon crossed the plane of the ecliptic moving south. This is known as the descending node, one of two intersections the Moon’s orbital path (dark green line) has with the ecliptic. For those keeping count this is the 2nd descending node crossing for the Moon this month.

   
   
   
   
   

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Thin Moon – 2 Days – 2 Conjunctions

   At around sunset Thursday November 28th look toward the western horizon for the 2.5-day old thin waxing crescent Moon to be close to the inner planet Venus, and an outer planet, Jupiter. The Moon will be about 1-2o from Venus and about 6o from Jupiter.
   Too dim to be seen with the naked eye at 8-9th magnitude and about 3o from the Moon is the Dwarf Planet Ceres.
   The planet Saturn is about 12o to the east from the Moon – which is where the Moon will be on the evening of November 29th. The two will be about 1-2o from one another.

   Both of these conjunctions between the Moon and planets are tight enough such that both groupings will easily fit within the field of view of binoculars.


   
   
   

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November Moon at Apogee

   Our Moon reaches apogee, (greatest distance from Earth), for this orbit, on Thursday November 7th. At that time the Moon will be at a distance of 31.75 Earth diameters 251,693 miles (405,060 km) from the Earth.

   On the day of the apogee Moon the 11-day old waning gibbous Moon rises during mid-afternoon and sets later the following morning.

   Does our Moon actually go around the Earth as this graphic shows? From our perspective on the Earth the Moon appears to circle around the Earth. However, in reality, the Moon orbits the Sun together with the Earth*

   *Click here to read my 2006 Scope on the Sky column “The Real Shape of the Moon’s Orbit”. (PDF)

   
   
   

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Crescent Moon Near Venus and Mercury

   Tuesday evening October 29th a very thin 2-day young waxing crescent Moon will be about 4-5o from the two inner planets Mercury and Venus. All three will easily fit within the field of view of binoculars – however be careful as they are not that far from the setting Sun.

   Over the next several days as the Moon waxes toward first quarter phase the Moon will pass by the Dwarf Planet Ceres and the outer planet Jupiter and then Saturn.

   
   
   

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Along the Ecliptic

   Every once in a while the planets arrange themselves along the horizon and when that happens visualizing the ecliptic is somewhat obvious. For the next week or so all of the naked-eye visible planets except Mars, plus Neptune and Dwarf Planet Ceres, will be above the horizon at sunset local time. If you wait about an hour the Moon and the planet Uranus will rise above the eastern horizon as Mercury and Venus have set in the west.
   The ecliptic is actually the Earth’s orbit and it is used as a reference ‘line’, properly known as the plane of the ecliptic, for all of the Sun orbiting objects. Since few if any Sun orbiting objects have orbits that are on the same plane as the Earth but rather these objects are tilted or inclined either above or below the plane of the ecliptic. This is know as inclination. (Table Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orbital_inclination)

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.


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