Skywatch Line for Wednesday November 25th and Thursday November 26th, 2020

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, November 25th, and Thursday, November 26th, written by Louis Suarato.

The 82% illuminated, waxing gibbous Moon rises at 2:30 p.m., Wednesday in the constellation Pisces, where it will be about 5 degrees below Mars, and trails the red planet across the sky. The Moon reaches apogee, its farthest distance from Earth during this lunar cycle, at 7:29 p.m., Thursday, at the distance of 252,211 miles, when it will join Mars in the constellation Pisces. Pisces is also the home of Messier deep sky object M74. M74 is a spiral galaxy about 32 million light-years from Earth. It is distinguished by two clearly defined spiral arms. Estimated to be 13.2 billion years old, M74 contains more than 100 billion stars. Also known as the Phantom Galaxy, for its dim surface brightness, the second lowest of all Messier objects, M74 is better seen on a moonless night with larger telescopes. This face-on galaxy was discovered by Pierre Mechain in 1780. Look for this galaxy 1.5 degrees east-northeast of the star Eta Piscium. Eta Piscium is halfway up the left side of the “V” that forms Pisces. On Wednesday and Thursday nights, M74 will be about 20 degrees to the left of Mars.

The second conjunction of the night is comprised of Saturn and Jupiter as they continue to move together and near their closest approach on December 21st. The two planets, now 3 degrees apart, emerge about 20 degrees above the south-southwestern horizon after sunset. Venus rises in Virgo at 4:30 a.m. Thursday. Venus is currently 88% illuminated as its elongation from the Sun decreases. Mercury is too close to the glare of the Sun to observe. Venus and Mercury are currently on the opposite side of the Sun from Earth.

Comet C/2020 S3 (Erasmus) has replaced Comet C/2020 M3 (ATLAS) as the brightest comet in the sky. Comet Erasmus is headed toward the Sun for its closest approach on December 12th, when it will be inside the orbit of Mercury. Discovered on September 17, 2020 by South African astronomer Nicolas Erasmus, this comet is estimated to have a 2,000 year orbit around the Sun. Comet Erasmus continues to brighten as it approaches the Sun, and is currently 7th magnitude. It is expected to reach 5th magnitude as it reaches perihelion. To locate the comet, first find Venus in the pre-dawn sky. Venus is in Virgo, and the constellation to its right is Hydra. The comet is 13 degrees to the lower right of Venus, in Hydra.

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