I’ve received several e-mails this week from people asking about the two fairly bright objects now visible in the low southwestern sky shortly after sunset. I told them the objects were Venus and Jupiter and I planned to elaborate on them in today’s column.
Venus and Jupiter appear to be moving closer to one another and on the evenings of Nov. 23 and 24, Venus will appear‘1.5 degrees south of Jupiter on both nights and look to be almost touching one another
Added to this planetary get-together, on Nov. 28 a slender crescent moon bathed in earthshine will join Venus and Jupiter and will appear only 2 degrees above Venus and 6 degrees to Jupiter’s upper left.
When objects like this get very close to each other, astronomers refer to it as a planetary conjunction and they occur about once a year. Many times we are unable to see conjunctions involving Venus because the planet is too close to the Sun and lost in the glare.
Venus, without a doubt, will be the most conspicuous point of light in the November early evening sky and as we enter the latter portion of the month, the planet will continue to rise higher and higher above the horizon.
At this point in time, Venus is shining at magnitude –3.8 which mean that only the Sun and moon shine brighter. Jupiter, on the other hand, is now at –1.7 magnitude which is still quite bright but doesn’t approach that of Venus.
If you have an unobstructed southwestern horizon and have a camera with at least a 100 mm lens, you should be able to obtain a fairly good picture of the conjunction since both planets should fit nicely in one frame. Don’t expect to see much planetary detail, however.
I’ve used my telescope to look at Venus many, many times, and have found that the best time to view this brilliant planet is in early morning or early evening twilight than when the sky is completely dark.
When the sky is dark, the light being reflected back from the clouds that surround Venus creates too much contrast. At higher magnification the light can be almost overpowering.
After enjoying the Venus/Jupiter spectacle and when the skies get darker, face toward the north and look directly overhead. You should be able to find the tremendous square of stars that mark the constellation of Pegasus, the Winged Horse.
The reason I mention this constellation, is to have you try and locate the star that is in the upper left corner of the square. This star is named Alpheratz and although it is part of the square it is actually the first star in the constellation of Andromeda.
Follow the upper line of stars that appear to point toward the northeast from Alpheratz. Above the third star in the top line see if you can see a fairly dim but still visible point of light. This point of light is known as M-31, the Andromeda Galaxy.
There are millions of galaxies in the universe but, in my opinion, Andromeda is one of the most mind-boggling galaxies in the heavens. Based on data and galactic research, the Andromeda Galaxy is made up of more than 200 billion suns among clouds of space dust and gasses. This galaxy, by the way, is the closest spiral galaxy to our own Milky Way Galaxy.
With binoculars, it is possible to view the galaxy from inside the city but if you live outside the city and are blessed with dark skies, this remarkable galaxy can be seen with the naked eye despite lying at a distance of 2-1/2 million light years. The galaxy is also one of the most distant objects that can be viewed with the naked eye.