This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Friday, November 29, through Sunday, December 1, written by Sam Salem.
On Friday, Sun rises at 7:04am and sets at 4:23pm; the waxing crescent Moon rises at 10:00am and sets at 7:13pm. The crescent Moon appears 2 degrees to Saturn’s left on Friday evening. The two stand some 15 degrees above the southwestern horizon, an hour after sunset. They make a pretty pair with the naked eye or through binoculars.
Mercury reached its greatest elongation from the Sun on Thursday. The planet is 20 degrees west of the Sun, visible in the eastern sky at dawn, not far from Mars and the bright blue-white star Spica in the constellation Virgo. Spot Mercury low in the east-southeast in early dawn. It’s far to the lower right of similarly bright Arcturus, by about 30 degrees, or three fists at arm’s length. Mercury rises at 5:17am, on Friday. Mars, at magnitude +1.8 in constellation Virgo, is low in the east-southeast in early dawn, to the upper right of Mercury. Mars is roughly halfway from Mercury to Spica. Mars rises around 4:30am
Venus, at magnitude –3.9, and Jupiter, at magnitude –1.8, shine together low in the southwest as twilight fades. They both sit in constellation Sagittarius. Venus is the brighter one. Every evening their orientation changes a bit. Jupiter moves away to Venus’s right and lower right. Venus sets few minutes after 6pm and Jupiter sets few minutes before 6pm. Saturn is the steady yellow object some 20 degrees upper left of brighter Venus and Jupiter. Venus draws a little closer to it each evening. They’ll reach conjunction on December 10th. Saturn shines at magnitude 0.6, more than a full magnitude brighter than any of the background stars in its host constellation Sagittarius. Saturn sets few minutes after 7pm.
The stars of both summer and winter appear prominent in late evenings of Thanksgiving weekend. If you look toward the west around 9pm, you’ll see the bright stars of the Summer Triangle. Vega still shines brightly well up in the west-northwest after dark. The brightest star above it is Deneb, the head of the big Northern Cross, which is made of the brightest stars of Cygnus. At nightfall the shaft of the cross extends lower left from Deneb. Turn around and face east, you’ll find stars normally associated with winter. Betelgeuse, Rigel, Aldebaran, and Capella all appear conspicuous around 9pm. The Big Dipper swings low in the north at this time of year. Although this asterism never sets from much of the United States and Canada, it does come close. As the stars come out, the W shape constellation Cassiopeia stands on high in the northeast. Watch Cassiopeia turn around to become a flattened M, even higher in the north, by late evening.