Stellar Vista Observatory Sky Report: Nov. 9-15

Stock image, St. George News

SOUTHERN UTAH — 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 available online. Send questions and comments to [email protected].

All five naked-eye planets are visible tonight, three in the evening sky and two in the morning (or three in the morning if you count Mars twice). Uranus and Neptune are out too, in the vicinity of Mars, if you have a telescope. This is an unusual bounty.

Mars and Jupiter are the brightest objects in the evening sky, and they’re on opposite sides of the sky. Orange Mars is rising in the east while off-white Jupiter is setting in the west. Mars was closest to Earth just over a month ago and it’s receding in the distance as the faster-moving Earth leaves it behind, but it’s a slow process and Mars is still brighter than any star. Redder, too. Jupiter has regained its status as the brightest planet in the evening sky, but not by much.

Saturn is immediately to the left of Jupiter. If you’ve been watching them, you’ve noticed that the separation is steadily decreasing. They’re now only 4 degrees apart but they’ll almost touch in five weeks, so monitor them. Jupiter and Saturn are low in the southwest as darkness falls, but Mars rises higher until 10 p.m.

Venus has been bright in the morning sky for months, shining as the brilliant “morning star” in the east before sunrise. Now, it’s joined by its junior partner Mercury. Mercury orbits close to the sun and never strays far from it, so it’s always seen near the horizon, and it’s mandatory to have a low eastern horizon to spot it at all.

Look for it 13 degrees to the 7 o’clock position from Venus – a little more than the width of your fist held at arm’s length. The best morning to look is Thursday, when the moon joins them with two bright stars nearby. Mercury remains visible – with difficulty – until about Nov. 20.

The moon is new on Saturday. How soon after can you spot it? It is too close to the sun to see on Sunday, but look for it at about 6 p.m. on Monday evening very close to the southwest horizon as the sky is still growing dark, and use binoculars (which every astronomer should own). It will be the slimmest of crescents.

The recently discovered comet C/2020 M3 ATLAS is visible in small telescopes near the middle of Orion at magnitude 8½. Google the comet’s full name for maps and details.

Written by JOHN MOSLEY. John Mosley was program supervisor of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles for 27 years and is the author of “Stargazing for Beginners” and “Stargazing with Binoculars and Telescopes”. He and his wife live in St. George where he continues to stargaze from his retirement home while serving on the advisory committee for Stellar Vista Observatory.

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