Each Monday I pick out the northern hemisphere’s celestial highlights (mid-northern latitudes) for the week ahead, but be sure to check my main feed for more in-depth articles on stargazing, astronomy, eclipses and more.
What To See In The Night Sky This Week: November 28-December 4, 2022
This week it’s all about planets. A planet’s opposition describes the point in its orbit when Earth is between it and the Sun. At that point the planet is, much like a full Moon, fully lit by the Sun as seen by us on Earth. It’s also closer to us than at any other point in its orbit, so appears as its largest in the night sky, and rises in the east at sunset to shine all night.
Saturn, and most recently, Jupiter, have been at opposition already in 2022. Now it’s the turn of Mars, which reaches opposition next week. However, for all intents and purposes Mars is now at its brightest and best since its last opposition 26 months ago.
Monday, November 28, 2022: Moon and Saturn
Tonight straight after sunset look to the west and you’ll see a 31% waxing crescent moon about 5° from the ringed planet Saturn in the constellation Capricorn.
Wednesday, November 30, 2022: First Quarter Moon
Today sees our natural satellite in space reach its First Quarter stage, when is appears to be half-lit as seen from the surface of Earth. Of course, the Moon is always half-lit by the Sun and has no permanent dark side, as some people seem to think.
Thursday, December 1, 2022: Moon and Jupiter
Tonight is Jupiter’s turn to be visited by a waxing gibbous Moon. About 64% illuminated, the Moon will be about 2° from the giant planet. Look to the southwest in the early evening after dark.
Planet of the week: Mars
Mars comes to its bright opposition next week. It’s already shining at a magnitude of -1.8. The opposition of Mars occurs on December 7, 2022, but you can go look at it right now for maximum effect.
Face due east an hour after dark. Mars looks like a bright, reddish-orange “star” and there’s nothing close to it that it could be confused with. It will get higher and more southerly as the evening wears on. By midnight, the planet will be high in the south. If you have a small telescope then you should know that using a magnification of about 80x will let Mars appear to be about the same angular size in your field of vision as the Moon does to the naked eye.
When Mars and the Earth pass by each other in the Solar System, Mars appears big in Earth’s night sky. Mars takes 687 days to orbit the Sun. Earth 365 days. So every couple of years Earth undertakes Mars on the inside. The result for us on Earth is that Mars comes to opposition, a specific day when Earth is precisely between Mars and the Sun.
Times and dates given apply to mid-northern latitudes. For the most accurate location-specific information consult online planetariums like Stellarium and The Sky Live. Check planet-rise/planet-set, sunrise/sunset and moonrise/moonset times for where you are.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.