Stellar Vista Observatory Sky Report for Nov. 29 – Dec. 5

Twilight with stars at Zion National Park, Utah, courtesy of the National Park Service, St. George News

Stellar Vista Observatory Sky Report
John Mosley

Nov.29 – Dec. 5

The Sky Report is presented as a public service by the Stellar Vista Observatory, a nonprofit organization based in Kanab, Utah, which provides opportunities for people to observe, appreciate and comprehend our starry night sky. Additional information is at Send questions and comments to [email protected]

Do you recall that two weeks ago I invited readers to watch Venus approach Jupiter and Saturn and predict and then confirm the date on which Saturn is precisely midway between Jupiter on the left and Venus on the right? That date is Dec. 4 when Saturn is 16-2/3 degrees from both planets. As I emphasize repeatedly, motions in the sky are a process, not a series of discrete events, and you get a much greater appreciation of what is going on by watching night-by-night.

So when will Venus continue on and pass Saturn? The answer is that it won’t. Venus is almost as close to Saturn as it will come. Their closest is 14° on the 16th and then Venus will reverse course and move westward away from Saturn, slowly at first but quickly accelerating as the month ends. Then Venus is moving between the earth and sun; more on that in future Sky Reports. Continue watching.

Jupiter and Saturn are both moving eastward against the stars but they are so distant and their orbital speeds around the sun so slow that it’s little fun to watch them creep across the sky unless they pass very near something interesting that lies beyond.

Thousands of years ago people had no idea whatsoever what caused a planet to move or to reverse course, or what it meant, so they invented astrology to provide explanations and to provide meaning. Today we know how the solar system is put together and why the planets move the way they do and there’s no reason whatsoever to believe in astrology – a failed belief system from a time when we were grasping to make sense of the universe but were entirely clueless.

Jupiter and Saturn are both moving eastward against the background stars of Capricornus. Jupiter, being swifter, is slowly separating from Saturn in a case of two tortoises racing, one slightly faster than the other. They were especially close a year ago; now they’re separated by 16 degrees; this time next year they’ll be 39 degrees apart, Saturn still plodding through Capricornus but Jupiter ahead in Pisces.

There’s a total eclipse of the sun on Saturday, but you’re guaranteed not to see it. It’s visible only from a small part of Antarctica and the nearby ocean. It’ll go in the record books as the least-observed total eclipse of the sun for a long time.

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