Monthly Notes

November 29, 2022

And, this December is a great month to comfortably view Jupiter and Saturn through a telescope when it first gets dark because both are up high in the southern sky—and high enough above the horizon to provide sharp images. When the planets are close to the horizon, they usually appear blurry in telescopes because they are being viewed through more atmosphere where there is a greater chance of turbulence. Now you can't miss Jupiter because it is very bright. Saturn is not as bright as you might think and so it does not stand out mightily like the king planet.

Mars is rising in the east as the Sun is setting and is high enough in the the eastern sky at 9 PM for good telescope images (when it is above the most turbulent part of the sky). It is near the brightness of Jupiter (located more southerly and high up) and shines steady without any twinkling (planets do not normally twinkle like the stars even low, near the horizon). Right around December 1, Mars will be closest to Earth (around 51,000,000 miles) an event that happens every 2 years (closer to 26 months)! At this beginning of December, Mars will be at what is called opposition, which means that it is opposite of the Sun in the sky, so as the Sun sets in the west Mars is rising in the east. So, NOW is a great time to view Mars through a telescope, to see some of its surface coloration. Unfortunately, the white north polar cap is not visible. Depending on the turbulence in the sky at your location, Mars may appear blurry with fleeting moments of clarity—this is always an issue with our turbulent atmosphere. So, just observe often which gives you a chance to hit a good steady or steadier night. Now, Mars will be smaller than you think in the scope. If you pump up the magnification to 200x or more, it will help to see detail but only if the turbulent atmosphere is steady enough to support the higher magnifications. Mars is in the constellation Taurus and will be for the entire month. It is between the reddish star Aldebaran, the eye of the Bull and Elnath in Auriga. The Pleiades is above all this. So, Mars is the brighest “star” in the east but it is amongst the bright stars of Aldebaran and Capella. Orion starts to show itself, nearer the horizon, around 8PM.

The Pleiades or Seven Sisters

The Pleiades sorta looks like a little dipper. It is small in the sky and initially looks like a fuzzy spot to the eyes. Great in binoculars.

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