November Moon at Apogee – And the Ecliptic

click on graphic to see it larger   Our Moon reaches apogee, (furthest from Earth), for this orbit, on Thursday November 26th. For this apogee the 12-day old waxing gibbous Moon will be at a distance of 31.82 Earth diameters, 252,211 miles (405,894 km) from the Earth.

   On the date of the apogee the 12-day old waxing gibbous Moon will be about 12o to the east from the planet Mars. The Moon will also be about 11o west from the outer planet Uranus. Currently Uranus has an apparent magnitude of around 5.7 meaning that it could be seen with the unaided in dark enough skies, or with telescopes and even binoculars – as long as the Moon is not in that part of the sky.

   Along the Ecliptic
   You may notice the arrangement of the planets spread across the horizon as shown in the graphic. Many objects in our solar system orbit the Sun in a path that is somewhat parallel with the Earth’s orbit, the ecliptic. All of the orbits are tilted or inclined away from the ecliptic however the 8 classical planets all have orbits that are inclined less than 7o from the ecliptic. Dwarf planets, asteroids, comets, for example, have orbital inclinations greater than 7o.
   The ecliptic also defines the Sun’s apparent path against the background of stars throughout the year. The planets are also in motion as they orbit the Sun as the video below illustrates.
   Take a short cruise along the ecliptic with the Sun!

   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)

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

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Hercules and a Comet

Click on graphic to see it full size.

Click on graphic to see it full size.

   In the morning skies before the local time for sunrise are the two stars that one follows from the arc in the Big Dipper’s handle — Arcturus in Bootes the Herdsman and Spica in Virgo the Harvest Maiden. Also part of this early morning cosmic scene the planets Mars and Saturn are visible. This graphic to the right shows a view of the sky including the two stars and two planets plus Comet Lovejoy. Comet Lovejoy is currently at about 9th magnitude making it too dim for naked-eye viewing but certainly within the reach of binoculars and telescopes, and of course time exposure pictures as you can see in this beautiful picture taken by P-M Hedén that appeared on the APOD River website on 13 December.
   Locating Comet Lovejoy should be relatively easy as the comet is within a few degrees from the keystone-shaped asterism that forms the chest of Hercules the Hero. Using 7×50 binoculars the entire asterism fits within the field of view of binoculars and if one scans toward the right away from the Keystone Comet Lovejoy may come into view – assuming the sky is dark enough.


   You may notice a fuzzy appearing object on a line between the stars Eta Hercules and Zeta Hercules. This is the globular star cluster known as the Hercules Cluster or M-13 from the Messier Catalog.

Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.

   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.