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Monthly Notes

December “merging” of Saturn and Jupiter! Maybe the only delight of 2020.

On the night of December 21, 2020, Jupiter and Saturn will be extremely close to one another in the night sky and almost appear as one “star.” This will be a wonderful event. They will be lower in the southwest sky, so buildings and or trees might interfer with the viewing. Jupiter is a very bright “star”—brighter than any other, except Venus—so you will be able to easily spot it. Try to follow the progress of these two planets getting closer to one another several days before the 21st.

 

October 31, 2020 • October/November Mars Delight

THIS IS IT! Mars is bright and close and ready to be observed! Mid-October through November is a great time to observe Mars. Mars is up in the southeast around sunset and is very bright, brighter than Jupiter who is up in the southwest.

The reason that Mars is bright is because it is “close” to the Earth, an event that happens about every two years—when these two planets are next to each other in their respective orbits (Mars is directly behind the Earth if you draw a straight line from the Sun, through the Earth and on to Mars).

This is the best time to observe Mars through a telescope. You do need to be able to use about 100x to 200x magnification to more easily see the south polar cap and the darker coloration. Also, you need to observe the war god when it is higher in the sky, which it now is at dark—placing it above the turbulent horizon. And, some nights are just less turbulent than other nights to observe this planet—so observe often.

A bonus this year is that Jupiter and Saturn are also out. You can’t miss Jupiter because it is just as bright as Mars but in the southwest. Saturn does not stand out like Jupiter or Mars. It is positioned a little to the east of Jupiter and “blends in” with the brighter stars in that area. If you can’t identify Saturn, just start pointing the telescope to one of the brighter stars east of Jupiter and you will know when you have it because those rings are very distinct! ENJOY!

The Pleiades or Seven Sisters
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What’s Out Tonight? is sponsored by Ken Press, publisher of astronomy books and charts.
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