Friday, Nov. 22
• Venus and Jupiter have closed to just 2° apart low in the southwest in twilight, as shown at right.
On Saturday and Sunday evenings they'll appear even closer.
• Right after it's fully dark, Vega is the brightest star higher in the west. Its little constellation Lyra extends to its left or lower left. Farther in the same direction, about a fist and a half at arm's length from Vega, is 3rd-magnitude Albireo, the beak of Cygnus. This is one of the finest and most colorful double stars for small telescopes.
Farther on in the same direction are 3rd-magnitude Tarazed and, just past it, 1st-magnitude Altair.
• In early dawn Saturday morning, look southeast to find the waning crescent Moon hanging above Spica, Mars, and low Mercury. Binoculars help as dawn grows brighter.
Saturday, Nov. 23
• In twilight this evening and tomorrow evening, Venus and Jupiter are just 1½° apart low in the southwest. Think photo opportunity!
• Around 7 or 8 p.m. now, the Great Square of Pegasus floats in its level position very high toward the south. (It's straight overhead if you're as far south as Miami.) Its right (western) edge points very far down toward Fomalhaut. Its eastern edge points less directly toward Beta Ceti (also known as Deneb Kaitos or Diphda), less far down.
What lurks below these? If you have a very good view down to a dark south horizon — and if you're not much farther north than roughly New York, Denver, or Madrid — picture an equilateral triangle with Fomalhaut and Beta Ceti as its top two corners. Near where the third corner would be is Alpha Phoenicis, or Ankaa, in the constellation Phoenix. It's magnitude 2.4, not very bright but the brightest thing in its area. It has a yellow-orange tint (binoculars help check). Have you ever seen anything of the constellation Phoenix before?
• In early dawn Sunday, look low in the east-southeast for the thin crescent Moon, oriented cup-like. It's above Mercury and next to fainter Mars.
Sunday, Nov. 24
• Sometime around 7 or 8 p.m., depending on where you live in your time zone, zero-magnitude Capella will have risen exactly as high in the northeast as zero-magnitude Vega has sunk in the west-northwest.
Monday, Nov. 25
• Whenever Fomalhaut is "southing" (crossing the meridian due south, which it does soon after dark this week), the first stars of Orion are just about to rise above the east horizon for skywatchers in the world's mid-northern latitudes. And, the Pointers of the Big Dipper stand upright low due north, straight below Polaris.
Tuesday, Nov. 26
• The bowl of the Little Dipper is descending in the evening at this time of year, left or lower left of Polaris. By about 11 p.m. it hangs straight down below Polaris.
• Two faint fuzzies naked-eye: The Andromeda Galaxy (M31) and the Perseus Double Cluster are two of the most famous deep-sky objects. They're both cataloged as 4th magnitude, and in a fairly good sky you can see each with the unaided eye. Binoculars make them easier. They're only 22° apart, very high toward the east early these evenings — to the right of Cassiopeia and closer below Cassiopeia, respectively.
But they look rather different, the more so the darker your sky. See for yourself. They're plotted on the all-sky constellation map in the center of the November and December Sky & Telescopes.
• New Moon (exact at 10:06 a.m. EST).
Wednesday, Nov. 27
• Orion clears the eastern horizon by about 7 or 8 p.m. now, depending on how far east or west you live in your time zone. High above Orion shines orange Aldebaran. Above Aldebaran is the little Pleiades cluster, the size of your fingertip at arm's length.
Far left of Aldebaran and the Pleiades shines bright Capella.
Down below Orion, brilliant Sirius rises around 9 or 10 p.m.
Thursday, Nov. 28
• The Moon pairs with Venus at dusk, as shown here.
• Does the Sun already seem to be setting about as early as it ever will? You're right! We're still three weeks away from the winter solstice — but the Sun sets its earliest around December 7th if you're near latitude 40° north, and right now it already sets within only about 1 minute of that time.
A surprising result of this: The Sun actually sets a trace earlier on Thanksgiving than on Christmas — even though Christmas is around solstice time!
This offset from the solstice date is balanced out by the opposite happening at sunrise: the Sun doesn't come up its latest until January 4th. Blame the tilt of Earth's axis and the eccentricity of Earth's orbit.
Friday, Nov. 29
• Now the Moon pairs with Saturn, as shown above.
• Vega still shines brightly well up in the west-northwest after dark. The brightest star above it is Deneb, the head of the big Northern Cross, which is made of the brightest stars of Cygnus. At nightfall the shaft of the cross extends lower left from Deneb. By about 10 or 11 p.m., it plants itself more or less upright on the northwest horizon.
Saturday, Nov. 30
• As the stars come out, the Cassiopeia W stands on end high in the northeast. Watch Cas turn around to become a flattened M, even higher in the north, by late evening.
Want to become a better astronomer? Learn your way around the constellations. They're the key to locating everything fainter and deeper to hunt with binoculars or a telescope.
This is an outdoor nature hobby. For an easy-to-use constellation guide covering the whole evening sky, use the big monthly map in the center of each issue of Sky & Telescope, the essential guide to astronomy.
Once you get a telescope, to put it to good use you'll need a detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of charts). The basic standard is the Pocket Sky Atlas (in either the original or Jumbo Edition), which shows stars to magnitude 7.6.
Next up is the larger and deeper Sky Atlas 2000.0, plotting stars to magnitude 8.5; nearly three times as many. The next up, once you know your way around, are the even larger Interstellarum atlas (stars to magnitude 9.5) and Uranometria 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 9.75). And read how to use sky charts with a telescope.
You'll also want a good deep-sky guidebook, such as Sue French's Deep-Sky Wonders collection (which includes its own charts), Sky Atlas 2000.0 Companion by Strong and Sinnott, or the bigger Night Sky Observer's Guide by Kepple and Sanner.
Can a computerized telescope replace charts? Not for beginners, I don't think, and not on mounts and tripods that are less than top-quality mechanically (meaning really heavy and expensive). And 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."
This Week's Planet Roundup
Mercury has begun its best dawn apparition of 2019. Spot it low in the east-southeast in early dawn, and watch it brighten from magnitude –0.1 to –0.6 this week. It's far to the lower right of similarly bright Arcturus (by about 30°, or three fists at arm's length). It's closer to the lower left of fainter Mars and Spica, as shown here.
Mars (magnitude +1.8, in Virgo) is low in the east-southeast in early dawn, to the upper right of Mercury roughly halfway from Mercury to Spica as shown here. This line of three expands from 19° to 24° long this week.
Venus (magnitude –3.9) and Jupiter (magnitude –1.8, both in Sagittarius) shine together low in the southwest as twilight fades. Venus is the brighter one. Every evening their orientation changes a bit. They're 2° apart on November 22nd, as shown at the top of this page, then they pass 1½° apart on the 23rd and 24th. After that, Jupiter moves away to Venus's right and lower right.
Saturn (magnitude +0.6, in Sagittarius) is the steady yellow "star" some 20° upper left of brighter Venus and Jupiter. Venus draws a little closer to it each evening. They'll reach conjunction on December 10th.
Uranus (magnitude 5.7, in southern Aries) is well up in the east after dark and stands highest in the south in late evening.
All descriptions that relate to your horizon — 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) is Universal Time (UT, UTC, GMT, or Z time) minus 5 hours.
Audio sky tour. Out under the evening sky with your earbuds in place, listen to Kelly Beatty's monthly podcast tour of the heavens above. It's free.
"The dangers of not thinking clearly are much greater now than ever before. It's not that there's something new in our way of thinking, it's that credulous and confused thinking can be much more lethal in ways it was never before."
– Carl Sagan, 1996
"Facts are stubborn things."
– John Adams, 1770