The fall night sky features Jupiter, Saturn


In October, we had some exceptional observation nights, and November can give us the same opportunities to see the fall skies.

Jupiter and Saturn remain in much of the sky so that even the casual observer can see them with the naked eye. Just look straight south after dark. Jupiter will be easy; Saturn, not so much. Jupiter will be the brightest object in the southern sky if there is no moon. If you see Jupiter, look to your right about a fist’s width to see a much darker Saturn that will be a bit golden.

A bonus! After sunset, look southwest to see Venus. As bright as Venus is, it will be easy to see. It’s featureless in a telescope, looking like a cue ball, and I haven’t taken a good shot of it yet. Thus, we could see three planets with the naked eye in the same evening! I will wait to try again for a good photo of Venus, but I want to wait until the apparent size of Venus is larger and is a crescent.

If you have a telescope, even one that is 60mm in diameter or larger, you can see some detail of Jupiter, and if they’re aligned to make this possible, you can see the same moons of Jupiter that Galileo saw around 1609. You can still see at least one moon. If you have a telescope 8 inches or larger in diameter, these moons will look like tiny balls – not just specks of light. You will be able to see that these tiny balls are small worlds in themselves, moving from night to night around the huge planet.

This same small telescope will show Saturn’s rings and, perhaps, some of Saturn’s subtle cloud bands. Nearby you might see another tiny bit of light, Saturn’s large moon, Titan. The larger the telescope, the more detailed Saturn will be.

I have included two of my own images of these planets. Planetary photography is the most difficult type of astrophotography one can attempt and I hope to do better. I now have access to a larger aperture and more aperture means, potentially, more detail visible in photos.

At the end of the year, Jupiter and Saturn will move behind the Sun from our perspective. We are heading towards winter and its constellations and Venus will be the only easily visible planet.

It’s still pretty hot at night, so get outside and use your eyes, binoculars – whatever you have – to see the beautiful night sky and those planets. Soon it might be very cold and not very hospitable for us starry sky lovers.

– Dr David Cater is a former faculty member at JBU. Email him at [email protected] The opinions expressed are those of the author.

David Cater / Star-Gazing Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system.


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