"Rational and innocent entertainment of the highest kind."
John Mills, 19th century Scottish manufacturer and founder of Mills Observatory, on amateur astronomy.
Some daily events in the changing sky for November 21 29.
Friday, November 21
You can point out that looks are deceiving. Jupiter and Venus may look close together, but Jupiter this week is nearly six times farther away from us than Venus is. That's part of why Jupiter is less bright even though it's a much bigger planet. The other reason is that, being farther from the Sun, Jupiter is lit much less brilliantly by the Sun's light.
Saturday, November 22
Sunday, November 23
Monday, November 24
Tuesday, November 25
Wednesday, November 26
Thursday, November 27
Friday, November 28
Saturday, November 29
Want to become a better amateur astronomer? Learn your way around the constellations. They're the key to locating everything fainter and deeper to hunt with binoculars or a telescope. For an easy-to-use constellation guide covering the whole evening sky, use the big monthly foldout map in each issue of Sky & Telescope, the essential magazine of astronomy. Or download our free Getting Started in Astronomy booklet (which only has bimonthly maps).
Once you get a telescope, to put it to good use you'll need a detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of maps; the standards are Sky Atlas 2000.0 or the smaller Pocket Sky Atlas) and good deep-sky guidebooks (such as Sky Atlas 2000.0 Companion by Strong and Sinnott, the even more detailed Night Sky Observer's Guide by Kepple and Sanner, or the classic Burnham's Celestial Handbook). Read how to use them effectively.
Can a computerized telescope take their place? As Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer say in their Backyard Astronomer's Guide, "A full appreciation of the universe cannot come without developing the skills to find things in the sky and understanding how the sky works. This knowledge comes only by spending time under the stars with star maps in hand and a curious mind." Without these, they wisely say, "the sky never becomes a friendly place."
More beginners' tips: "How to Start Right in Astronomy".
This Week's Planet Roundup
Mercury is hidden in the glare of the Sun.
Venus and Jupiter (magnitudes 4.1 and 2.1, respectively) shine brightly in the southwest in evening twilight. Brighter Venus is to Jupiter's lower right. Watch this eye-catching pair closing in on each other daily! They're 8° apart on November 22nd and only 2.4° apart on the 29th. They reach their spectacular conjunction, 2° apart, on November 30th and December 1st when the crescent Moon joins in too.
In a telescope Venus is still small (16 arcseconds wide) and gibbous (71% illuminated). Jupiter is 34″ wide but has a much lower surface brightness. Being 7 times farther from the Sun, Jupiter is lit only about 1/49 as brightly.
Mars is hidden in the glare of the Sun.
Saturn (magnitude +1.1, in the hind feet of Leo) rises around 1 a.m. and shines high in the southeast by early dawn. Don't confuse it with similarly-bright Regulus 20° (two fist-widths at arm's length) to its upper right.
A telescope will show that Saturn's rings have turned nearly edge on. They'll reach a minimum of 0.8° at the end of the year, then start opening again before finally closing to edge-on next September.
Uranus and Neptune (magnitudes 5.8 and 7.9, respectively, in Aquarius and Capricornus) are in the south during early evening. Uranus is now 0.1° from the similarly bright star 96 Aquarii and remains there until mid-December. Use our online article and finder charts or the chart in the September Sky & Telescope, page 63.
Pluto is lost in the sunset.
All descriptions that relate to your horizon or zenith including the words up, down, right, and left are written for the world's mid-northern latitudes. Descriptions that also depend on longitude (mainly Moon positions) are for North America. Eastern Standard Time (EST) equals Universal Time (known as UT, UTC, or GMT) minus 5 hours.
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