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The Night Sky Tonight: November 25 – December 8

By Mark Wagner

Mark Wagner brings us highlights of what's happening in the sky each night this week. Click on each image to enlarge the view. Happy gazing!

Friday, November 25
Mars is on the menu! Less than two weeks from a spectacular opposition, it is big and red, and a great target for your telescope. Mars distance from Earth is currently approximately 50.9 million miles, getting closer until opposition. Compare its color to the surrounding alpha stars Capella (white/blue), and the two red giants Aldebaran and Betelgeuse. If we are lucky and Martian spring does not produce intense dust storms on its surface, we should see polar caps and dark features on the planet.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion AstroView 102mm Equatorial Refractor Telescope Kit, Orion Observer 90mm Equatorial Refractor Telescope Kit

Tomorrow Evening: Moon Targets

Saturday, November 26
With the Moon at 3 days and a 13.3% illuminated waxing crescent, low in the west, let's use our 10X binoculars for larger easy targets. The walled plain (1) Cleomedes is 76 miles diameter, circular with steep slopes and pretty high walls. North to crater (2) Endymion, equal in size to Cleomedes, find very steep slopes, high walls and a dark large flat floor. The lunar sea (3) Mare Crisium appears dark and round at 375x345 miles, showing wrinkle ridges along its periphery. (4) Mare Fecunditatis is irregular shaped, 363x303 miles, with (5) Sinus Successus protruding out of the sea's northeastern limit.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion Scenix 10x50 Wide-Angle Binoculars, Orion 10x50 Binocular Stargazing Kit II

Tomorrow Morning: Planetary Nebula Ghost of Jupiter

Sunday, November 27
This morning try for the Ghost of Jupiter, an easy to locate bright planetary nebula, catalogued as NGC 3242. Begin a star hop at (A) Alpha Hydrae, Alphard, using your finder to move east to (U) Upsilon, (L) Lambda and (M) Mu Hydrae. Move 2 degrees south and you're close. The planetary shines at magnitude 7.3 and is large at 40x35 arc-seconds diameter. Using an Ultrablock filter will darken the background showing a slightly oblate shape and, at high power, its central star. In dark skies you may also detect a faint outer shell.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion SkyLine 8" Dobsonian Reflector Telescope, 1.25" Orion UltraBlock NarrowBand Filter

Tomorrow Evening: Mars Features

Monday, November 28
Enjoy Mars while it approaches opposition and occultation. Martian features tonight include: (1) Terra Meridiani, an extensive equatorial dark feature. The low plain (2) Hellas Planitia, oval-round and light colored is close to the leading limb. Near the northern meridian is the large crater (3) Cassini. Dark (4) Arnus Vallis arcs around irregular crater (5) Nini Patera. Below those on the limb is dark (6) Oenotria Scopulus, a large irregular scrap. On the opposite limb is (7) Acidalia Mensa, a large and flat topped. And of course the (8) Polar Ice Cap. How much can you identify?

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion SkyLine 10" Dobsonian Reflector Telescope, Orion SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian Telescope

Tomorrow Evening: Moon Targets

Tuesday, November 29
Tonight's Moon is at 44% illumination, 6.12 days old and a waxing crescent, one day before 1st Q. Use 10X binoculars to view (2) Rupes Altai, a 300 mile long arcing cliff that terminates at (3) Catena Abulfeda, a fun linear chain of small craters requiring 100mm instruments to view. With a 50mm (1) Crater Aristoteles will show very high terraced walls, with a pair of small central mountains. If you have 200mm, (4) Rimae Hypatia presents a large rille running east-west on the south shore of Mare Tranquilitatis. Note small crater Molkte in the center of the rille.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion SkyLine 10" Dobsonian Reflector Telescope, Orion 10x50 Binocular Stargazing Kit II

Tomorrow Morning: Carbon Star U Hydrae

Wednesday, November 30
The carbon Star U Hydrae is actually within the boundary of Sextans, but we'll visit it along with actual Hydra targets. This carbon star is easy to locate above the center point between (N) Nu and (M) Hydrae, the inset shows enough detail to identify it in the field. It is a semi-regular variable red giant at approximately 680 light years, ranging from magnitude 4.5 to 5.4 in just over a year. Its midpoint this year was in early June, so expect to find it near its midpoint and reddest.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion SpaceProbe 130ST Equatorial Reflector Telescope, Orion SkyQuest XT6 Classic Dobsonian Telescope

Tomorrow Evening: Jupiter

Thursday, December 1
What a treat tonight! Jupiter sits elegantly atop the Moon, and gives us a full shadow transit of Io. Here at Orion Headquarters, the action begins at 17:22 PST in twilight, as Io approaches the trailing limb, with the Great Red Spot (GRS) well into the disk. At about 18:41 the shadow ingresses, while the little moon is past the meridian. By 19:25 Io is atop the GRS with the shadow transit near the meridian. Keep watching while the GRS spins out of view, Io pops off the disk into the blackness of space, and the shadow heads toward a 20:50 disappearance.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion Observer 134mm Equatorial Reflector Telescope, Orion Observer II 70mm Altazimuth Refractor Telescope Kit

Tomorrow Evening: Moon Targets

Friday, December 2
Tonight the Moon is 75.7% illuminated and waxing gibbous at 9.12 days. 10X Binoculars will show the walled plain (1) Clavius and its beautiful internal craters perfectly. The famous crater (2) Copernicus in 50mm is spectacular, hexagonal with very high terraced walls and central mountain. Nearby in 100mm is the chain of craters (3) Stadius T running north-south over 48 miles, amazing in steady seeing. With a 200mm instrument (4) Rima Hesiodus can be traced southwest to northeast over its 182 mile length.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion SkyLine 8" Dobsonian Reflector Telescope, Orion UltraView 10x50 Wide-Angle Binoculars

Tomorrow Morning: Variable star V Hydrae

Saturday, December 3
Variable star V Hydrae is a convenient star hop from Nu. Look in your finder for magnitude 5.2 double star HIP 53252, brightest in an obvious triangle, the finder the red star V Hya just over a degree southwest. V has a 530 day period with a magnitude range from 6.0 to 12.3. Next midpoint is on June 13, 2023, and currently just past halfway to its dimmest. Look for its clear red tone as a magnitude 9 star. Keep an eye on this between now and its nadir, to see how it almost disappears from view.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion AstroView 6 Equatorial Reflector Telescope, Orion SkyQuest XT6 Classic Dobsonian Telescope

Tomorrow Evening: Moon Targets

Sunday, December 4
Tonight's 90.8% illuminated 11.12 day Moon is at waxing gibbous phase. Use a 10X binocular to view (1) Mare Humorum, a round 380 mile diameter lunar sea with a very flat dark floor showing wrinkle ridges. In the east in 50mm find (2) Rupes Liebig, a large north-south scrap running 109 miles, with ramified rilles at its southern extremity. A 200mm instrument shows (3) Dome Mairan T, small at 6 miles diameter, and isolated. Can you see its 3km summit crater? In the north of Mare Humorus is Rimae Gassendi on the walled plain of Gassendi. The rimae covers 90 miles with perpendicular sections.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion SkyLine 8" Dobsonian Reflector Telescope, Orion 10x50 Binocular Stargazing Kit II

Tomorrow Evening in France: Moon Occults Uranus

Monday, December 5
Here's a fun one in Western Europe. Tonight the Moon occults Uranus in the early evening. Look for the green planet disappearing along the northwestern limb shortly after 18:00 local time. Reappearance will occur around 20 minutes later near the small lunar sea Mare Humboldtianum. Have you ever witnessed the Moon occulting a planet, its great fun to see it blink out, then suddenly pop back into view. There will be a great occultation on the 7th, when the Full Moon occults Mars!

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion SkyLine 8" Dobsonian Reflector Telescope, Orion SkyLine 10" Dobsonian Reflector Telescope

Tomorrow Morning: Double Star Beta Hydrae

Tuesday, December 6
Double star challenge Beta Hydrae is for you folks with larger telescopes. While possible with a 10?, larger is better. This toughie is a straight line hop from Spica in Virgo, through Kraz (Beta Corvi) to dim Beta Hydrae, at magnitude 4.28 and low to the southern horizon. When first measured in 1834, the pair of stars had a 1.7 arc-second separation. Now it's down to 0.6, a real sub arc-second challenge. The primary shows at magnitude 4.67 with a secondary at 5.47. Can you split it?

Skill Level: Intermediate

Suggested Gear: Orion SkyLine 10" Dobsonian Reflector Telescope, Orion SkyLine 12" Dobsonian Reflector Telescope

Tomorrow Evening: Full Moon Eats Mars

Wednesday, December 7
Tonight is the Cold Moon, name of the December Full Moon, harkening to the upcoming winter season. Tonight is also an excellent occultation of Mars, just two days before the planet's opposition. Full Moon and Big Mars in an occultation, what a treat! Visible over parts of the Americas, Europe and North Africa, this is bound to be one of the great astronomical events you'll remember. Here at Orion Headquarters in California, Mars reappears from behind the Moon around 20:38 PST ? check your local listings for exact times. Seeing it pop out from behind the Moon will be spectacular.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion SpaceProbe 130ST Equatorial Reflector Telescope, Orion StarBlast 102mm Altazimuth Travel Refractor Telescope

Tomorrow Evening: Io Shadow Transit

Thursday, December 8
With Jupiter heading to the western horizon more and more early in the evening, grab all the views you can! Tonight speedy Io casts its shadow on the planet's disk early in the evening. You can begin watching as the sky darkens to follow the (GRS) Great Red Spot. By 20:15 Io is about to enter the disk, always interesting to see it ?absorbed? and disappear from view. Keep watching and, as the GRS is about to spin out of view, Io's shadow enters the show. With good seeing there is a tremendous amount of detail to be observed. Get those scopes out!

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion SkyLine 8" Dobsonian Reflector Telescope, Orion SkyQuest XT6 Classic Dobsonian Telescope

Tomorrow Evening: Constellation Pisces




Charts from Starry Night Pro. NGC 3242 sketch by Bertrand Laville. Lunar images from NASA LRO, Other images from Virtual Moon Atlas and Starry Night Pro.

Mark Wagner is a lifelong astronomy enthusiast and deep sky observer in the San Francisco bay area. Visit our Facebook Page if you'd like to post comments, questions, sketches or images you've taken to our Night Sky Tonight post.