But Where’s Jupiter?

Hey, sky fans! Thanks for taking the time out of your day to stop by. Before we all get started with the day, hit the road, see some family, get into some uncomfortable conversations, and hopefully, have some tasty food, I wanted to talk a minute to point out something in tomorrow morning’s skies. Tomorrow morning? Trust me.

With the skies turning around the way they have been, we’ve been seeing the planet Venus calling out to us from a hundred million miles away. That’s right, if you’ve noticed how bright it is, you might be surprised that it’s more than full astronomical unit (AU; the average distance from the Sun to the Earth, about 92.9 million miles) away, on the other side of the Sun from us. It’s quite an attention-grabbing sight.

It’s been a while, though, since we’ve checked in on our old friend Jupiter. Joops disappeared from the evening’s skies earlier in the year, and since then has been tearing things up on the morning side. If you happen to enjoy being out early on late-fall mornings, who knows, maybe you have more exciting plans than I do for Thanksgiving night, tomorrow the 25th, is a great morning to do it.

If you can, head outside and look toward the southeastern skies maybe an hour, an hour and a half, before sunrise Friday morning. Where I am, the Sun will rise just a couple of minutes before 7:00 A.M. The star Spica, the brightest one in the constellation Virgo, will be rising into the morning skies just behind Jupiter and a thin waning crescent Moon. The three together will form a gorgeous, wide, flattened triangle. It’ll be about eight degrees, a bit less than the width of your fist held at arm’s length, from Spica to Jupiter. Or, maybe, if you add in the star Algorab toward the south (to the right) and the star Heze toward the north (left), it looks a little like a bow and arrow. The Moon will be very thin, only about one eighth lit, and terrific.

Here’s a sketch of what yammering about (yam, Thanksgiving… sigh…).

img_3747
The southeast sky an hour before sunrise Friday morning November 25, 2016

I don’t do it very often, but I love getting out to see the early morning skies. The streets around where I live are quiet, and calm. For those few minutes, the skies are mine alone. I’m all for sharing, but, this way, it’s a welcome bit of calm before the chaos of the day starts.

Also, since the Moon’s deep waning phases rise late, it’s not often I get to see them against a dark sky; these are the ones we usually see in the daytime skies. Seeing them in the darkness is a little strange and unsettling, but in a familiar way. They’re reversed and in the wrong side of the sky than what we’re used to. It’s kind of like watching kids playing baseball, but running the bases backward, starting at third.

If you have a chance, I hope you’ll give it a shot. It’s a terrific treat. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, hug the people you love, and clear skies! Have some stuffing for me! It’s all about the stuffing.

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