NASA is telling stargazers to enjoy “evenings with giants” this month – as the massive planets Jupiter and Saturn will be visible in the night sky for the next few weeks.
In the early evening they can be found in the southeast, slowly moving west with the stars as the night progresses.
“They form a triangle with the bright star Fomalhaut,” the US space agency said on its website.
“As you watch this trio, notice how the planets glow with an even light while the star twinkles. This way you can easily tell whether you are looking at a planet or a star.
Late last month, astronomers revealed that Jupiter would appear at its largest and brightest in decades as it made its closest approach to Earth in 59 years.
It’s still about 367 million miles from us, but stargazers haven’t had as great a chance to spot it in the night sky since October 1963.
Look up! NASA is telling stargazers to enjoy “evenings with giants” this month – as the massive planets Jupiter and Saturn will be visible in the night sky for the next few weeks. “They form a triangle with the bright star Fomalhaut,” the US space agency said on its website
Astronomers may also be able to spot Mars retrograde motion this month. The sky map above shows the Red Planet’s path over several months in 2022 and 2023 as it enters and then exits retrograde motion
JUPITER: THE BASICS
Jupiter is the fifth planet from the sun and the largest in our solar system.
It is a massive ball of gas composed mostly of hydrogen and helium with some heavy elements.
“Jupiter’s familiar streaks and vortices are actually cold, windy clouds of ammonia and water floating in an atmosphere of hydrogen and helium,” NASA said.
“Jupiter’s famous Great Red Spot is a massive storm larger than Earth that has been raging for hundreds of years.”
The planet is twice the size of all the other planets combined, and the Great Red Spot alone is large enough to contain the entire Earth.
A spacecraft – NASA’s Juno Orbiter – is currently exploring this vast world.
facts and figures
distance from the sun: 750 million km
orbital period: 12 years
surface: 61.42 billion km²
Dimensions: 1.898 × 10^27 kg (317.8 M⊕)
length of day: 0d 9h 56m
moons: 53 with formal designations; countless additional moonlets
The gas giant made its closest approach to Earth in nearly 60 years on September 25, reaching opposition 24 hours later, meaning the planet appeared opposite the Sun on Earth.
The planet’s closest approach to Earth hardly ever coincides with opposition, meaning this year’s views would be “extraordinary,” according to NASA.
Due to the overlap of the two events, which will not take place again until 2139, Jupiter will appear brighter and larger in the sky for the next few weeks.
When it comes to other celestial sights this month, Mars has been steadily progressing east throughout the year, as it normally does, relative to the background stars.
But in late October, the Red Planet halts this apparent movement and then appears to reverse course.
The planet moves west every night for the next three months, from November to late January, then reverses direction towards the end of January and continues its journey east.
This is the so-called retrograde motion of Mars, NASA said.
“It happens about every two years and it really upset early observers,” the US space agency wrote.
“That Mars appears to change direction is an illusion caused by our planet’s movements in its orbit passing the Red Planet in its orbit.”
Earth and Mars move in roughly circular orbits around the Sun, like cars on a racetrack, but our planet Earth is in the inner, faster orbit.
About every 26 months we overtake Mars, which moves more slowly in its orbit. During this time, as we pass by Mars, and before we turn the bend in our orbit to move away from it, we see Mars retrograde and appear to change direction, although it is still moving forward in its orbit.
Amateur astronomers have been told to note how Mars’ position in relation to Betelgeuse, Aldebaran and the Pleiades is changing over the weeks.
NASA added, “You are witnessing what was once a source of intense curiosity for astronomers, which we now know is just a sign of two planets passing in the night.”
Late last month, astronomers revealed that Jupiter would appear at its largest and brightest in decades as it made its closest approach to Earth in 59 years
Stargazing: In the early evening find Jupiter and Saturn (pictured) in the southeast sky, slowly moving west with the stars as the night progresses
The Orionid meteor shower is also active in October and November, peaking on the night of October 20th.
It’s a moderate shower, typically producing 10-20 meteors per hour at its peak under clear, dark skies.
The bad news is that the moon will be about 20 percent full on peak nights this year, so it’ll be a little disruptive if it rises a few hours before sunrise.
However, it should not completely spoil the view.
The shower’s name comes from the fact that the paths of its meteors can be traced back to an area of the sky near Orion.
These meteors are dust fragments left by Comet Halley in a trail that stretches along its orbit. They are usually bright and fast-moving, often leaving persistent trails that can glow in the sky for a few seconds after darting past.
No special equipment is required to observe meteor showers.
“Just make sure you’re warm enough and that you’re facing from a safe, dark place away from bright lights. Then all you have to do is look up and enjoy the show,” the US space agency said.
SATURN: THE BASICS
Saturn is the sixth planet from the sun and the second largest planet in our solar system after Jupiter.
With its sun rings, it is considered the “jewel of the solar system”.
It’s not the only planet to have rings, but none are as spectacular or as complicated as Saturn.
Like Jupiter, Saturn is a massive sphere composed mostly of hydrogen and helium with some heavy elements.
Its core extends over 60 percent of the Earth’s radius.
It is similar to the rest of the planet but is made up of a “squishy” material made up of gases, metallic liquids, rocks and ice.
The furthest planet from Earth discovered with the naked eye, Saturn has been known since ancient times.
The planet is named after the Roman god of agriculture and wealth, who was also the father of Jupiter.
While the planet Saturn is an unlikely place for life to take root, some of its many moons are not.
Satellites like Enceladus and Titan, home of the inner oceans, could potentially support life.
facts and figures
distance from the sun: 1.434 billion km
orbital period: 29 years
surface: 42.7 billion km²
Dimensions: 5.683 × 10^26 kg (95.16 M⊕)
length of day: 0d 10h 42m
moons: 82 with formal designations; countless additional moonlets
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